My last post before Christmas was about antimicrobial resistance and how too much blame is attributed to agriculture, and I am going to return to that topic today.

And I will mention again, that being allergic to many antibiotics, I have nothing to gain through blindly supporting agricultural use of antibiotics — I certainly want as many options left for me as possible. However, details of research that came into my inbox in early January have encouraged me to return to the topic.

A study was carried out at Glasgow University, UK. Dr. Alison Mather, working with an interdisciplinary research team within the college of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, exploited long-term surveillance data of Salmonella typhimurium DT104 from co-located humans and animals in Scotland, and demonstrated how animal and human DT104 populations differ significantly in several ways, such as prevalence, linkage, time of emergence and diversity. The findings suggest that the local animal populations are unlikely to be the major source of resistance in humans, and question policies that restrict the use of antimicrobials in local domestic animals.

“It remains true that the use of antimicrobials promotes resistance in microorganisms and, of course, we advocate prudent use in all species, but our work does call into question the, at times, singular focus on veterinary usage," said Professor Stuart Reid, the senior author of the work and now principal at the Royal Veterinary College, London. "Whilst our study has focused on a single bacterial species, our findings do demonstrate that we must ensure that our local policies do not impact disproportionately on domestic livestock without considering imported foodstuffs and animals abroad, as well as the medical use of antibiotics. There is still much to be done if we are to understand the problem at the level of the global ecosystem.”

The British Veterinary Association has welcomed the research. “For a long time, antimicrobial resistance in humans has been blamed in part on the veterinary use of antimicrobials and the result has been moves to restrict the ability of vets to use certain classes of antimicrobials," said Carl Padgettt, president of the BVA. “This research will be a hugely important step in our understanding of the way resistance occurs. While contact between animals and humans does lead to some transmission of disease and the potential transfer of resistance, the researchers state that it is unlikely that the animal population is the major source of resistance diversity for humans.”

While this may only be one study, it deserves proper consideration in the debate on any further curtailment of antibiotic use in animal production. What none of us will benefit from is knee-jerk decisions one way or the other. Of course, medicines must be used responsibly, and that really is the point: responsible use taking into consideration all the facts.