Scientists quantify number of human deaths due to antibiotic use in chicken production

Scientists quantify number of human deaths due to antibiotic use in chicken production

In the first study of its kind, an international team of scientists used a Dutch genetic fingerprinting study to estimate the proportion of ESBL E.coli blood-poisoning infections and deaths in humans resulting from the use of a third-generation cephalosporin in chicken production. [1]

The UK has never used cephalosporins in broiler production, just in the breeding pyramid where they are voluntarily banned.

In response to the study’s findings the Soil Association put out a press statement extrapolating data saying: “Approximately 280 people are dying every year in the UK from blood infections caused by a highly antibiotic-resistant E. coli superbug, acquired from chicken.

“According to the study, chicken production is responsible for 1,580 cases of ESBL E. coli blood poisoning every year in the UK.”

The scientists said: ‘The number of avoidable deaths and the costs of health care potentially caused by third-generation cephalosporin use in food animals is staggering.’ The study recommends that urgent worldwide action is taken to limit the use of these antibiotics in all food animals.

BPC and the RUMA Alliance say they recognise the spread of antibiotic resistance as a global challenge and the need for responsible use of antibiotics in farming and human medicine.

British consumers can be assured that British chickens are reared according to the strict production standards of the Red Tractor assurance scheme. These standards include rigorous controls of the use of medicine under veterinary supervision. All medicines on farm should be used as little as possible and only as much as necessary.

The British poultry meat industry has voluntarily stopped the use of certain categories of antibiotics in the breeding pyramid, which are considered to be critically important to human medicine, such as cephalosporins.

In the UK, cephalosporins are not and have never been used in flocks used for chicken meat production.

As a responsible member of the livestock sector, the British poultry industry started an antibiotics stewardship programme to collect accurate and up to date data on antibiotics usage in poultry. The data will allow better understanding and analysis of the use of antibiotics in poultry farming.

Antibiotic resistance is a complex issue and all groups need to work together to develop decisions based on sound science to manage the risks while allowing the optimum benefit to be gained from the use of antibiotics to treat humans and animals.

We’re strongly committed to a prudent and responsible use of antibiotics in poultry and all other livestock and will continue to engage with the government, the livestock sector and other stakeholders on this matter.

Soil Association policy adviser, Richard Young, said; “This is the first detailed estimate to emerge of the human-health consequences from the use of antibiotics in European agriculture. It indicates that large numbers of people die of resistant infections due to the over-reliance on antibiotics in intensive livestock farming. It also shows that there are major additional costs to the NHS from treating patients even when they survive the infections.”

[1] ESBL E. coli , Collignon et al. 2013, Human Deaths and Third-Generation Cephalosporin use in Poultry, Europe, Emerging Infectious Diseases,
Appendix with data by country,
The authors of the study include a World Health Organization adviser and government and other scientists from various countries.

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