Your Reading List

Out of control

WHO report declares antimicrobial resistance 'a global security threat'

In May the World Health Organization (WHO) issued its global report on antibiotic resistance stating that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) “is now a global security threat.” And although the report acknowledges a more disciplined approach to the use of human antibiotic therapy it had a strong message for the food animal industry as well.

The situation is getting critical and this is evident by the national and international teams that have been formed to address AMR at home and around the world. The recent press regarding food animal usage of antibiotics is fuelling public interest and one can hardly argue the impact of the data. In 2011 the U.S. used 29.9 million pounds of antibiotic in food animals compared to 7.7 million to treat human conditions. Although that large usage is spread over a great number of food animal and poultry (eight billion chickens alone) that is not the point. The point is that a food system that uses drugs on arrival to treat the sick and the well, is not a food system but a drug system and consumers have figured that out.

Antibiotic abstinence is a tough sell but the December 11, 2013 call by the FDA to “phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes” was answered by 25 of the 26 companies who sell product. The exemption was monensin and bambermycin. This was followed by an April 2014 announcement from the chicken producers in Canada to implement a ban on the injection of ceftiofur, a third-generation antibiotic, into eggs. Ceftiofur has never been approved by Health Canada for the use in eggs, but producers were able to use it extra label under provincial legislation. Quebec producers had voluntarily withdrawn the drug in 2005 and saw resistance drop from 60 per cent to seven per cent.

When Alexander Fleming accepted the Nobel prize for the discovery of penicillin, he warned that there would be a day that bacteria would evolve to overpower antibiotics. This day is now and although there are many theories as to where the guilt should lie, we are beyond that point of discussion and ready for the call to action. More than half of the infections in the U.S. are not treatable, one-third of lung infections are not treatable in China, TB does not respond in the EU and in Canada and Cuba over one-half of urinary tract infections (UTI) do not respond to antibiotics.

Bacteria has cracked the code and without the introduction of new types of antibiotics since 1987, they are winning the race against time. Some of the heavy hitters are Klebsiella pneumonia which is an intestinal bacteria that is now resistant to last-resort treatments and is the culprit behind hospital-borne infection including intensive care and newborn babies, infections of the blood and pneumonia. E. coli has found safe haven in urinary tract infections and scoffs at the tried-and-true fluoroquinolones which always worked in the past, and gonorrhea no longer responds to treatment of last resort, including cephalosporins.

MARSA a well-known superbug has increased its presence by 1,200 per cent and in Canada, vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) is bounding through hospitals. A recent study in Canada found that the top five resistant bacteria among all age groups were Staphylococcus aureus (upper respiratory and skin, commonly known as Staph), Escherichia coli (E. coli), Streptococcus pneumoniae (upper respiratory) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (upper respiratory). While the elderly did not respond to antibiotics used to treat UTI, bacteria in children were already resistant to penicillin.

This is not a surprise as the family doctor is the primary source of antibiotics for Canadians accounting for 80 per cent of all prescriptions. It is estimated that more than half of those are unnecessary especially in preschool children but daycares and schools now will often refuse admittance unless the child is being “treated.” It is clear that much of the responsibility of AMR lies with the system itself but that does not excuse food animal from the table.

The WHO urges both human and animal health to put systems in place to systematically share data from surveillance and to share it on a global stage. This puts the pressure on countries where antibiotics are widely abused especially in human health. The call to action requires a revisit to basic care and vaccinations, improved sanitation and removal of policy that fosters antibiotic dependency such as schools and daycare that refuse a child with a cold. For the animal industry this means addressing the problem, which is often transportation, starvation, dehydration and comingling stress in calves.

The bottom line is that we need antibiotics in our world. Young mothers on our very own Prairies died of sepsis post-birth and children with pneumonia rest in our graveyards. Soldiers lived final days in agony while bacteria tore through their bodies and many of our elderly continue to fade from a UTI. And while the beef industry has never been found guilty of human antimicrobial resistance, and that is supported by the research of BCRC, the industry is urged to consider the long-term impacts of an overusage of antimicrobials in food production and more importantly, to really get down to talking about the solutions.

Why should we care? We care because 70 per cent of the world’s disease is zoonotic in nature, meaning it transfers between human and animal or animal and human. The situation may seem out of control, but like it or not, beef producers and health professionals are in this together — both striving for a healthy solution to the current resistance to antimicrobials in both humans and animals.

Brenda Schoepp is a motivating speaker and mentor who works with young entrepreneurs across Canada and around the world. She can be contacted through her website All rights reserved. Brenda Schoepp 2014

About the author


Contact Brenda through her website: All Rights Reserved. Brenda Schoepp 2018

Brenda Schoepp's recent articles



Stories from our other publications