Colombia: Detecting superbugs in poultry

05-06-2019 | | |
Photo: Canava
Photo: Canava

A team of scientists in Colombia are working with the Welcome Trust to reduce the levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the country’s poultry and livestock.

Poultry, pigs and other livestock are often fed antibiotics, driving the evolution of resistant superbugs but Colombia has, until now, had no way of knowing the extent of the problem.

Detecting and auditing superbugs

To find out, the scientists partnered with farmers and retailers to create the country’s first national surveillance programme for antibiotic-resistant bacteria in chickens. The Colombian poultry industry rears 700 million birds a year and produces 13,000 million eggs a year

By detecting and auditing the appearance of superbugs, the programme is helping to change both the perceptions and practice of antibiotic use in Colombia

Diseases with high levels of drug resistance

Dr Pilar Donado-Godoy, senior investigator Corpoica (the Columbian Corporation for Agricultural Research), said the poultry industry were open to the idea of collaboration: “The epidemiology of antimicrobial resistance is complex and you have to work in an integrated way.

“We wanted to look if the use of antibiotics was associated with the presence of antimicrobial resistance.”

Initial results found high levels of drug resistance for Salmonella, Campylobacter, E.coli and Enterococcus.


For example, the percentage of chicken samples containing Salmonella resistant to Enrofloxacin and Ciprofloxacin was 67% and 69% while 43% of samples were resistant to Ampicillin, 38% resistant to Seftriaxone and 54% to Tetracycline.

Dr Donado-Godoy said: “The poultry industry was very concerned, but they wanted to understand what was happening and how they can control this.”

Reducing use of antibiotics

Producers were educated about the level of drug resistant bacteria found in their animals and a programme incentivised them to reduce the use of antibiotics fed to livestock.

Lower antimicrobial resistance

As a result, there was a decrease in antimicrobial resistance for both Salmonella and E.coli.

Growing consumer demand for antibiotic-free chicken

One of the knock-on effects of the programme was a change in consumer perception. Felipe Harris Aletta, chief executive of Bogata-based El Bandido Bruto, said the demand for antibiotic-free chicken was growing day by day with everyone more conscious of responsible consumption.

Dr McAllister Tafur Garzon, director of Columbia’s veterinary safety and supplies, highlighted the use of the antibiotic Colistin: “There was an expedited resolution prohibiting its use as a growth promoter, with one purpose – safeguarding animal health, public health and food safety.”

Expansion of programme

The programme is currently being expanded across the country and into other livestock as well as informing similar programmes in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

Tony Mcdougal Freelance Journalist