Conventional wisdom about antimicrobial resistance warrants skepticism

Conventional wisdom points the finger of blame at the use of antibiotics in poultry and livestock production in the development of antimicrobial resistance in humans. That is an oversimplification of a complex problem.

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Time Magazine, February 25, 1966, reported, “Nearly all experts agree that (by the year 2000) bacterial and viral diseases will have been wiped out. Probably arteriosclerotic heart disease will also have been eliminated.”

It shows how wrong the conventional wisdom can be. Not only have the microbes survived, some are now virtually invincible to antibiotic treatment, as observed by Larry Schlesinger, MD, in this month’s WATT PoultryUSA article, “Veterinarians seek dialogue in debate over antimicrobial resistance.” Dr. Schlesinger, who is chair of the Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity, Ohio State University, says the global crisis in antimicrobial resistance has led to predictions of a return to the pre-antibiotic era.

Newer conventional wisdom points the finger of blame at the use of antibiotics in poultry and livestock production in the development of antimicrobial resistance in humans. The article in this issue examines why that is an oversimplification of a complex problem.

A National Institute of Animal Agriculture white paper on antibiotic use in animals offers some of the most succinct insight about the subject that I have read:

Broad concern and confusion about antibiotic use on farms have been expressed by the general public and policymakers. Key reasons for this concern and confusion can be traced to numerous factors including:  


  • Antibiotic use in food animals is not a black-and-white issue. It is a complex issue that is all too frequently over simplified by both critics and proponents.
  • Misunderstanding that a concern is not equivalent to risk.
  • The disconnect between consumers and agriculture (and those in agriculture), with most consumers being at least three generations removed from the farm.
  • Activist messaging, the media and the Internet are often inaccurate and misleading regarding antibiotic use, and in particular antibiotic resistance and its relationship to use, in food-animal production.  


It will require more than the conventional wisdom from the medical and veterinary communities and policymakers to deal with the problem of antimicrobial resistance. The cold fact is that the microbes were created with one imperative  —  to survive.

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