Reports of the number of deaths in the United Kingdom linked to antibiotic use in farm animals come from out-of-date research, says John FitzGerald, secretary general for the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance.
FitzGerald said that antibiotic resistance research in the Netherlands had initially suggested a link between resistant bacteria in humans and poultry. The research team had also estimated the number of deaths that may have been caused by this link. More recent work from the same team using more sophisticated methods has led them to conclude, "Whole genome sequencing provides superior resolution over classical typing methods and does not support the previously proposed occurrence of frequent clonal transmission of ESBL-positive E. coli from chickens to humans."
Extrapolating the calculations of possible human deaths from the Netherlands to the UK was flawed from the outset because antibiotics were used differently in UK poultry production in 2009 when compared to the Netherlands, the alliance says. 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 third-generation cephalosporins. In the UK, third-generation cephalosporins are not and have never been used in flocks used for chicken meat production, the alliance says, which was not the case in the Netherlands in 2009.
The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance, which includes the British Poultry Council and the British Retail Council, says it recognizes the spread of antibiotic resistance as a global challenge and the need for responsible use of antibiotics in farming and human medicine.