ESBL-scare in the right context

Fabian Brockotter Editor in Chief, Poultry World
Photo: Mark Pasveer
Photo: Mark Pasveer

One of the main drivers behind the reduction of antibiotic usage in livestock is the rise of resistant bacteria in human healthcare. Human deaths due to superbugs originating from poultry meat, especially the ESBL producing E. coli is a huge scare that led to drastic measures.

However, the most recent research, a decade long study in the Netherlands, shows that poultry is not the largest culprit in transmitting the bugs, it is humanity itself. The combination of easy access to antibiotics, wrong usage, travel and globalisation spreads the resistant bacteria. That is good news for the industry, but that doesn’t mean we are off the hook when it comes to antibiotic reduction targets.

Transmission of bacteria from poultry is deemed low, but poultry production is still a large reservoir of the bacteria with a prevalence of above 50%. Also, for farmers and farm personnel there is a danger. The same study revealed that direct contact between birds and farmer does lead to human infections and possible disease treatment issues of this group. For general health and especially for the health of people involved in the poultry industry it is essential to keep antibiotic usage as low as possible and keep 3rd and 4th generation antibiotics solely for human usage only.

Apart from that, ESBL is only a small issue for the poultry sector.