Antibiotic Resistance - a Growing Threat to Food Safety?

GLOBAL - Getting to grips with veterinary use of antibiotics is one of the key elements of tackling this growing crisis of antibiotic resistance, says Randox Food Diagnostics.
calendar icon 2 April 2015
clock icon 4 minute read

The concern over antibiotic resistance is growing on a global scale and everyone from doctors to politicians are getting involved in the debate. There is no doubt that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest dangers of current times, as evidenced with US President Barack Obama’s pledge last month of US$1.2 billion to combat the threat.

It has long been recognised that getting to grips with veterinary use of antibiotics is one of the key elements of tackling this growing crisis. To this end, $270 million of the money pledged by the US Government has been earmarked for the Food and Drug Administration specifically to combat the overuse of antibiotics in food production.

Indiscriminate medicating by producers for disease control rather than treatment has led to overuse, and the picture is further complicated by the issue of some medication being used to increase weight gain and performance. An estimated 70 per cent of antibiotics produced in the US are used in animal agriculture to accelerate animal growth and prevent diseases common in often overcrowded and sometimes less than sanitary living conditions. Scarily, this amount is estimated to be more than four times the amount of drugs used to treat human illness, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The impact is concerning. As pathogens evolve and become resistant to antibiotics, there is the potential for them to be transferred from animal food products to humans. This limits the options of disease treatment, not to mention the risk to humans of toxicity or allergies from antibiotic residues.

Authorities all over the world have, as a result, set strict limits on the amounts of veterinary drugs that can be present in food products. Whether it is international standards such as the WHO’s Codex scheme, regional standards such as the EU regulations or national requirements like the USDA, authorities have established Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) for a wide range of drug residues in food products. This means food produce must be either free from or below particular levels of a whole host of medicinal compounds.

Getting it wrong can be costly: in an increasingly safety-conscious market such as the food market, the stakes are high. In the event of falling foul of standards, product recalls and fines may be the least of food producers worries. Restoring consumer confidence, once damaged, can be a much longer term issue. Indeed, disputes over the safety of particular compounds can quickly escalate to diplomatic levels triggering trade embargoes, with the Russian, EU & Chinese ban on meat from beta-agonist-fed animals being an example.

All of this makes issues affecting exporters of food products very complex. They need to be conscious of a multitude of regulations varying across markets. The ability to screen products effectively for multiple substances is key.

Randox Food Diagnostics Evidence Investigator, using Biochip Array Technology, is a market-leader. This unique multi-analyte testing platform will reduce labour costs, increase throughput and guaranteed overall productivity improvement. Detecting up to 22 analytes, with new technology now detecting up to 46 analytes, from a single sample in less than two hours and with less than five per cent false positives and no false negatives, food producers can have confidence in results.

With the drive to tackle antibiotic resistance seeing regulations strengthened right across the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that food companies will need to invest in technology to keep pace.

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