Meat Management Magazine

Meat Management magazine is the modern, independent voice of the UK meat industry, offering news, opinion, expertise and information to Britain’s top managers and executives.

Concern over fluoroquinolone antibiotics in poultry production

on Nov 14 2012

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is calling on Minister of Food and Farming, David Heath MP, to ban the use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics in poultry production to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance in campylobacter and other infections in humans. Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK, affecting over 350,000 people a year. Chickens are the source of 50-80% of cases, according to the Alliance.

The Alliance claims a ban would bring the UK into line with the US, where the Food and Drug Administration stopped the use of the antibiotics in poultry in 2005 because of increasing resistance in campylobacter. Denmark, Finland and Australia also do not use fluoroquinolones in poultry.

The need for urgent action is highlighted by a recent EU report which has indicated for the first time the extent of fluoroquinolone use in poultry. It shows that the oral use of these antibiotics accounts for nearly half of their farm use in the UK and over three quarters of it throughout the EU [6]. Most oral use is in poultry and given as whole-flock medication in drinking water rather than individual-animal treatment, despite the antibiotics being classified as ‘critically important in human medicine’ by the World Health Organization.

In a letter on behalf of the Alliance to David Heath MP, Soil Association Policy Advisor Richard Young, said; “Since it is clear that voluntary action by the industry has been ineffective in reducing fluoroquinolone use, we now call upon you to work with the European Commission and other Member States to introduce new legislation to prohibit the use of these critically important antibiotics in poultry production, and ensure they are only used in other farm animal species in strictly controlled situations. We recognise this could result in a small increase in the retail price of chicken, but we believe that people would be willing to pay a little more to reduce the risks to their health and help safeguard the effectiveness of such an important class of antibiotics into the future.”

A Food Standards Agency survey in 2007 found that four out of every ten retail chickens were contaminated with campylobacter, and that one in five samples of campylobacter were resistant to fluoroquinolones. There are also concerns about the rise of fluoroquinolone resistance in salmonella and E. coli. The European Food Safety Authority has said that ‘resistant Salmonella and Campylobacter involved in human disease are mostly spread through foods’ and the WHO says that ‘resistant E. coli can spread from animals to people through the food chain.’

In some European countries, fluoroquinolone use and antibiotic resistance in poultry and humans is even higher than in the UK [6][15], so the Alliance wants changes introduced across the EU and in all countries which export chicken to the UK. It also wants changes to regulations to ensure that in pigs, cattle and other farm-animal species, fluoroquinolones can only be used on rare occasions to save life, when it is known that no other antibiotics would be effective.