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Anim Biotechnol. 2002 May;13(1):71-84.

The food safety perspective of antibiotic resistance.

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Office of Research, Center for Veterinary Medicine, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Laurel, MD 20708, USA.


Bacterial antimicrobial resistance in both the medical and agricultural fields has become a serious problem worldwide. Antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are an increasing threat to animal and human health, with resistance mechanisms having been identified and described for all known antimicrobials currently available for clinical use. There is currently increased public and scientific interest regarding the administration of therapeutic and sub-therapeutic antimicrobials to animals, due primarily to the emergence and dissemination of multiple antibiotic resistant zoonotic bacterial pathogens. This issue has been the subject of heated debates for many years, however, there is still no complete consensus on the significance of antimicrobial use in animals, or resistance in bacterial isolates from animals, on the development and dissemination of antibiotic resistance among human bacterial pathogens. In fact, the debate regarding antimicrobial use in animals and subsequent human health implications has been going on for over 30 years, beginning with the release of the Swann report in the United Kingdom. The latest report released by the National Research Council (1998) confirmed that there were substantial information gaps that contribute to the difficulty of assessing potential detrimental effects of antimicrobials in food animals on human health. Regardless of the controversy, bacterial pathogens of animal and human origin are becoming increasingly resistant to most frontline antimicrobials, including expanded-spectrum cephalosporins, aminoglycosides, and even fluoroquinolones. The lion's share of these antimicrobial resistant phenotypes is gained from extra-chromosomal genes that may impart resistance to an entire antimicrobial class. In recent years, a number of these resistance genes have been associated with large, transferable, extra-chromosomal DNA elements, called plasmids, on which may be other DNA mobile elements, such as transposons and integrons. These DNA mobile elements have been shown to transmit genetic determinants for several different antimicrobial resistance mechanisms and may account for the rapid dissemination of resistance genes among different bacteria. The increasing incidence of antimicrobial resistant bacterial pathogens has severe implications for the future treatment and prevention of infectious diseases in both animals and humans. Although much scientific information is available on this subject, many aspects of the development of antimicrobial resistance still remain uncertain. The emergence and dissemination of bacterial antimicrobial resistance is the result of numerous complex interactions among antimicrobials, microorganisms, and the surrounding environments. Although research has linked the use of antibiotics in agriculture to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant foodborne pathogens, debate still continues whether this role is significant enough to merit further regulation or restriction.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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