chris elliott web quote

In the week the UK Review on Antimicrobial Resistance was published, it seems timely to ask what is to blame for the rise of AMR and, more importantly, what can we do about it?

For a long time the Danish system, which banned the prophylactic use of all antibiotics in their industry more than 15 years ago, has been quoted as the way to go. Their annual report seems to point to a huge reduction in the use of antibiotics and reduced AMR in their animals, yet a marked increase in the need for therapeutically administered antibiotics and - perhaps most significantly - a less than expected decline in the number of AMR cases in humans.

Had the Danish ban stopped the use of all antibiotics, I have little doubt AMR cases would have fallen much more dramatically. However, had they done so, the likelihood is they would no longer have a viable pig industry. Overall it seems their pragmatic approach has been somewhat ineffective in terms of reducing human AMR, even though the use of antibiotics has declined substantially.

There is a clear path towards the reduction - and potentially total cessation - of antibiotic use in farm animals. Politicians in Brussels are determining this to be the correct direction of travel, and major food companies such as KFC, McDonald’s and Chipotle in the US are already refusing to purchase - or planning to cease purchasing - meat from antibiotic-medicated animals.

The industries that learn how to move towards ‘antibiotic free’ - or at the very least greatly reduced reliance on antibiotics to boost animal performance and prevent disease - will prosper.

However, to get a viable system in place that will not bring about a massive increase in costs, still be able to feed the world’s growing demand for meat and not result in a decline in animal welfare standards is an enormous challenge.

Improved animal housing, better vaccines, better nutrition, improved immune status and many other factors must be looked at in terms of delivering what governments and consumers across the world may be demanding in the not too distant future.

Professor Chris Elliott is director of the Institute of Food Safety at Queen’s University, Belfast