Foodborne bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. Coli are getting harder to treat as they are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics used to beat them, two EU agencies warned in a report published on Tuesday (3 March).
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) annually collect and jointly analyse data from humans, pigs and calves under one year of age submitted by the EU member states on antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The report shows that Salmonella and Campylobacter, in particular, are becoming increasingly resistant to ciprofloxacin, one of the antibiotics of choice for treating infections caused by these bacteria and categorised as critically important for use in humans too.
Another report released by EFSA in December showed that nearly one in three foodborne outbreaks in the EU in 2018 were caused by salmonella, while salmonellosis was the second most commonly reported gastrointestinal infection in humans after campylobacteriosis.
Sporadic cases of human Salmonella infection with resistance to carbapenems, another last-line antimicrobial, were also highlighted in the report by the two agencies.
FInding carbapenem resistance in foodborne bacteria in the EU is a concern for Mike Catchpole, ECDC’s chief scientist. “The most effective way to prevent the spread of carbapenem-resistant strains is to improve screening,” he said.
The report also includes key outcome indicators that help EU member states assess their progress in reducing the use of antimicrobials and combatting anti-microbial resistance (AMR).
The AMR is a deadly threat that claims 33,000 lives in the EU every year and is also responsible for an annual economic loss estimated at around €1.5 billion. It is expected to become a bigger killer than cancer by 2050.
The Commission’s One Health Action Plan, launched in June 2017, called for effective action against the AMR threat based on the principle that the health of humans, animals and the environment are interconnected.
However, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) criticised the One Health approach in a report last year, as it has not yet delivered demonstrable results in reducing the superbugs health threat.
Antibiotics are used by livestock farmers to treat animal diseases that can be transmitted to human beings, like the well-known campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis.
Humans can acquire these infections can be acquired directly from animals, through environmental exposure or through the consumption of contaminated foodstuffs, and their severity can vary from mild symptoms to life-threatening conditions.
However, misuse and overuse of antibiotics in the past decades has led some microorganisms, also called superbugs, to develop antimicrobial resistance, meaning that medicines become less effective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others.
“The number of antimicrobials used in animals and in the health sector has led to one of the greatest global problems we’re faced with today, which is anti-microbial resistance (AMR), impacting human health,” the EU’s Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said recently.
The new EU food policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy (F2F), due to be published at the end of March, is expected to tackle the rising threat of AMR.
In a leaked draft of the strategy, the reduction of antimicrobials’ sales for farmed animals and in aquaculture between 2017 and 2030 is listed as one of the five main targets on which the Commission’s policy will be founded.
In F2F’s mid-term review in 2025-26, the Commission will propose to refine the targets on AMR use by animal species sector and member states for the main animal food-producing species, the draft document says.
The draft also says that the Commission will assess in 2028 whether the adoption of legally-binding targets would be necessary to ensure a sustainable reduction of the use of AMR in food-producing animals, taking into account member states’ progress towards the aspirational targets.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]