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Safety concerns intensify over bacterial resistance

Bacteria are fighting back and it’s got the European Food Safety Authority in a sweat.

The findings of the latest annual Europe-wide report by EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) “underline again that antimicrobial resistance poses a serious risk to human and animal health”, reads a statement on the authority’s website.

Resistance is more prevalent in southern and eastern Europe than northern areas.

The risk posed by this resistance to widely used antimicrobial drugs has already been identified by the European Commission as a “major priority” in its political agenda on food safety.

The report warns that that resistance to ciprofloxacin, an antimicrobial that is critically important for the treatment of human infections, is very high in Campylobacter, thus reducing the options for effective treatment of severe foodborne infections.

Multi-drug resistant Salmonella bacteria also continue to spread across Europe. “This is worrying because it means that this last-resort drug may soon no longer be effective for treating severe human infections with Salmonella,” said ECDC chief scientist Mike Catchpole.

Interest in antibiotic-free farming has been growing, not least given the challenges to food security that resistance could pose.

Research by experts at the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, published in December 2015, concluded that there is “a long-term risk to food production from overusing antibiotics in livestock in the form of rising resistance amongst animals, leading to higher mortality and morbidity […]. This could pose challenges to global food security as well as farmers’ profits. In the case of severe untreatable infections, farmers may be faced with the loss of entire flocks or herds.”