Does antimicrobial use pose a threat to human health?
With poultry production set to escalate by over 130% globally over the next 30 to 40 years as the world’s population increases, the need for improved technology in the breeding and rearing process will become a major factor in guaranteeing supply. Linked to this will be the increasing use of medication to ensure animal health and welfare, sustainability and the optimal use of the resources available. However, such usage carries serious responsibility. Surveillance must be carried out on the use of antimicrobials and these must be carefully managed to reduce the speed at which antimicrobial resistance develops – or AMR, as it is more commonly known.
“Even now the industry can produce a broiler chicken ready for the market in under five weeks. This is thanks to genetic selection, improved feeding and enhanced health management practices, which do, when necessary, involve the use of antimicrobials as therapeutic agents to treat bacterial diseases in intensive farming operations. These antimicrobials can be used
either in feed or in water,” says Dr Johan Oosthuyse, CEO of V-tech.
“What is antimicrobial resistance (AMR)? Simply, this is the potential of bacteria in animals, specifically those bred for human consumption, to become resistant to medication as a result of being exposed to antimicrobials if animals are treated during the breeding and rearing process,” he says. “There is the associated concern that bacteria causing diseases in humans could also become resistant to antimicrobials as a result of eating meat from animals that have been treated; however there is conflicting evidence with regards to the relationship between AMR in humans and in animals.”
Oosthuyse believes that AMR is a reality for both human and animal health and one that needs to be taken seriously. According to the review “Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a Crisis for the Health and Wealth of Nations” by economist Jim O’neill, which was commissioned by the UK Prime Minister David Cameron in July 2014, drug-resistant infections already kill hundreds of thousands a year globally, and by 2050 that figure could be more than 10 million if preventative measures aren’t put in place now.
“The real concern globally is that antimicrobial resistance may limit the availability of effective antimicrobials in human medicine in the future, and South Africa is expected to play an important role in the fight against AMR. Veterinarians and other health officials, together with companies like V-tech, need to work together towards achieving the strategic objectives set out in the WHO AMR strategy framework.”
Oosthuyse reiterates the importance of the management of antimicrobial usage with an extensive surveillance plan and to monitor residue levels to ensure that food safety standards are adhered to throughout Southern Africa, especially in the poultry industry where broilers tend to be more susceptible to bacterial infections; and in turn, that the consumer is protected against any possible residue through the consumption of these animal products.¡