Report examines use of antibiotics in agriculture

October 24, 2002

Washington D.C--October 21, 2002--Antibiotics have been used against infectious diseases with great success and have been a part of agriculture for many years. Agricultural uses of antibiotics include the treatment and prevention of diseases in animals and plants and the promotion of growth in food animals. But scientists have long recognized a down side. The concentrated and widespread use of antibiotic agents has resulted in the emergence of drug-resistant organisms, some of which can now survive most commercially available antibiotics. A new report from the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM), "The Role of Antibiotics in Agriculture," carefully considers the issues.

Intensive and extensive antibiotic use leads to the establishment of a pool of antibiotic resistance genes in the environment. Both pathogenic bacteria and organisms that do not cause disease may become resistant to antibiotics, and bacteria of human and animal origin can serve as reservoirs for resistance genes. Scientists are now trying to evaluate the odds that exposure to these genes will transfer antibiotic resistance to other populations of bacteria, animals, even humans. Research studies have shown that antibiotic resistant pathogens and possibly bacterial genes are transmitted from animals to humans through food, water, and by direct contact.

The transmissibility of antibiotic resistant bacteria or genes among animals and humans and the transfer of genes from antibiotic resistant bacteria to other kinds of bacteria associated with animals raise serious concerns about the use of antibiotics in agriculture. The concerns are three-fold: (1) that antibiotic resistance genes are amplified in the environment because of antibiotic use in agriculture; (2) that antibiotic resistance genes negatively impact public health; and (3) that antibiotic resistance genes negatively impact animal health and production.

"The Role of Antibiotics in Agriculture" gives the conclusions of thirty-two (32) prominent scientists brought together to focus on the impact of antibiotic resistant bacteria in agriculture and provide a critical assessment of that impact. The document discusses best approaches to understanding and investigating antibiotic resistance, transfer of antibiotic resistance genes, and intervention strategies to prevent the selection and spread of antibiotic resistance genes. Importantly, "The Role of Antibiotics in Agriculture" proposes directions for new research.
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The American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) is an honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) whose mission is to recognize excellence and foster knowledge in the microbiological sciences. Its programs include convening critical issues colloquia and developing consensus-building position papers that provide expert scientific opinion on current and emerging issues in microbiology. AAM reports can be downloaded for free: http://www.asmusa.org/acasrc/academy.htm

American Society for Microbiology

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