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Weekly Overview: Is Animal Production to Blame for the Antibiotic Resistance Crisis?

19 September 2013

ANALYSIS - A report published this week on antibiotic resistance in the US has been generally supported by the food animal industry, which accepted some level of criticism for its involvement and stressed its role in helping to prevent a future crisis. Some campaigners took advantage of the report, claiming it should be a wake up call for "factory farming". From the egg industry, there was news of a simple technique to aid food security, the growth in free-range production in Brazil and the launch in the US of an egg-free mayonnaise.

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) prioritises the most threatening 'superbugs' in human medicine in the US and outlines four core actions to halt antibiotic resistance in pathogens.

CDC says 'Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013' offers a snapshot of the complex problem of antibiotic resistance today and the potentially catastrophic consequences of inaction.

The overriding purpose of the report, says CDC, is to increase awareness of the threat that antibiotic resistance poses and to encourage immediate action to address the threat.

The first section of the report provides context and an overview of antibiotic resistance in the US. It gives a nationwide assessment of the most dangerous antibiotic resistance threats, prioritising bacteria (and one fungus) into one of three categories: urgent, serious and concerning.

Other chapters cover what can be done to combat this growing threat and a summary of each of the pathogens covered by the report.

Commenting on the report, one campaign group - Food & Water Watch - took the opportunity to blame antibiotic resistance on 'factory farms', saying it should come as a wake-up call for that sector of the industry.

The Animal Health Institute (AHI), on the other hand, generally supported the findings of the report, saying that it confirms FDA’s developing policy to phase out growth promotion uses of medically important antibiotics and to phase in more veterinary oversight. AHI highlighted that, of the 18 specific antibiotic-resistant threats discussed in the report, only two have possible connections to antibiotic use in food animals.

During an event in Bastos, the major egg-producing city in Brazil, the manufacturer of Hellmann’s mayonnaise and the biggest retail group in the country spoke about the growing demand for cage-free eggs.

Sales of free-range and organic eggs are growing at more than twice the rate of conventional egg sales at the largest supermarket chain in Brazil and multinational company, Unilever, has announced that all eggs used in its Hellmann’s brand of mayonnaise - the most popular brand - will be 100 per cent cage-free by 2020.

A company based in California has launched its first egg-type product - a mayonnaise without any egg ingredients. The product, based on green peas, is suitable for vegans.

Researchers at University of California Davis have developed a small light emitting diode (LED) which, when placed in a chicken coop, could be the answer to extending winter egg production and thus help improve food security in developing countries.

And finally, turning to bird flu news, FAO has issued a new warning to the international community that the H7N9 and H5N1 avian influenza viruses continue to pose serious threats to human and animal health, especially in view of the upcoming flu season. In Italy, a third person has been found to be infected with the H7N7 avian flu virus although the symptoms do not appear to be serious.

Jackie Linden

Jackie Linden

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