Newcastle University doesn’t chicken out of studying antimicrobial resistance

Isabel Lamb on the n'egg'ative effects of overusing antibiotics in the meat industry

Isabel Lamb
17th December 2020
Credit: Brett Jordan on Unsplash
Antimicrobials are medicines (including antibiotics, antivirals and antifungals) used to treat pathogens and disease in animals and plants. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when harmful pathogens change over time and are no longer responsive to such treatments. This renders the antimicrobials ineffective and results in infections that are harder to treat. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a rising global concern as the ability to treat common infections is jeopardized.

Antibiotics are required to ensure high quality health and welfare for animals, but their overuse and unnecessary use can actually speed up the development of AMR. In agriculture, particularly the meat industry, resistance of several strains of harmful bacteria, such as Escherichia coli (E.coli), Campylobacter and Salmonella, to certain antibiotics has been reported as a consequence of misuse by overuse.

Transmission of antimicrobial resistance via consumption of infected meat can threaten human health

AMR is of particular concern in agriculture as it can lead to economic loss if disease develops and spreads among poultry and can be a hazard for human health if AMR genes are transmitted to humans via the consumption of infected meat.

Image credit: Adrian Lange on Unsplash

Poultry is one of the most widespread meat types consumed worldwide and the poultry industry can help to alleviate poverty being a low cost, intensive farming approach. However this shift towards increased poultry consumption, as low and middle income countries transition towards higher income and increased urbanisation, comes with the overuse of antimicrobials.

Increased meat consumption as people switch to an ‘urban diet,’ may exacerbate the problem

Now an international project to study the use of antibiotics in farming in low and middle income countries is being co-lead by Newcastle University in order to tackle such issues. The project will focus on the poultry industry in Nairobi, Kenya and Lilongwe, Malawi as both areas have seen recent increases in the number of people switching to an ‘urban diet,’ that includes increased meat consumption, alongside weak regulation of the use of antibiotics in agriculture.  

Image credit: Obie Fernandez on Unsplash

Researchers at Newcastle University are working with UK partners at the University of Southampton and the University College London, alongside international partners at the African Population and Health Research Centre in Nairobi and the University of Malawi. These scientists hope to explore links between the cultural change towards an ‘urban diet’ and alterations to farming practices in order to meet demand. Such alterations include the use and possible misuse of antibiotics.

By better understanding the local contexts, researchers hope to address ways in which low and middle income countries can continue to meet increasing poultry demands without the misuse of antimicrobials, in order to stem the development of AMR.

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