Government must ban all use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics in poultry as new FSA survey reveals record levels of resistance

A new FSA survey shows that resistance to ciprofloxacin, a fluoroquinolone antibiotic classified as critically important in human medicine due to its importance for treating serious human Campylobacter infections, reached record levels (54%) in Campylobacter jejuni from retail chickens in 2015-6 [1].

This explains why ciprofloxacin resistance is also at record levels in human Campylobacter infections (48% in 2015) [2], as most human Campylobacter infections are acquired from poultry.

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics has long campaigned for a total ban on the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry [3], and in late 2016 the British Poultry Council finally agreed to voluntarily stop using them in chickens, although it said it was still using them in turkeys [4].

This was welcome progress. Unfortunately, the government’s regulator, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, still refuses to implement a legal ban despite clear scientific evidence that use of the antibiotics in poultry has an impact on human health. The latest Red Tractor standards also allow these antibiotics to be used in chickens and turkeys [5].

Cóilín Nunan of the Alliance said:
“It is scandalous that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate still allows for poultry to be mass medicated with fluoroquinolone antibiotics. Twenty years ago, a House of Lords report [6] said this should be stopped, and even the US banned the practice over 10 years ago because of the strength of the scientific evidence [7]. So why are British and European authorities still refusing to take action?”

In 2016, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Food Safety Authority said:
“Given the high levels of resistance to fluoroquinolones in broilers and the assessment that a large proportion of human campylobacteriosis infections comes from handling, preparation and consumption of broiler meat, this is a compelling example of how antimicrobial resistance in food and animals may impact the availability of effective antimicrobial agents for treating severe human Campylobacter infections” [8].

Despite this scientific assessment, most European countries still permit fluoroquinolones to be used in poultry and the European Commission also refuses to take any action.

Notes to Editors

[1] Antimicrobial resistance in Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli from retail chilled chicken in the UK (Year 2: 2015-16), https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/fs102121y2report.pdf

[2] This is the most recent data we have, obtained via an FOI request submitted in 2016 by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

[3] See, for example, our 2016 report “Why the use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics in poultry should be banned”, http://www.saveourantibiotics.org/media/1495/why-the-use-of-fluoroquinolone-antibiotics-in-poultry-must-be-banned-alliance-to-save-our-antibiotics-july-2016.pdf 

[4] http://www.saveourantibiotics.org/news/news/alliance-welcomes-british-poultry-councils-recent-announcements-on-antibiotic-use/

[5] Red Tractor Chicken Standards, https://assurance.redtractor.org.uk/contentfiles/Farmers-6803.pdf?_=636359681046417894
Red Tractor Turkey Standards, https://assurance.redtractor.org.uk/contentfiles/Farmers-6829.pdf?_=636416710706720149

[6] House of Lords, 1998. Science and Technology, Seventh Report, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/250978/4172.pdf

[7] See “FDA Announces Final Decision About Veterinary Medicine” http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/343/fda_announces_final_decision_about_veterinary_medicine.pdf

[8] See p8 of “The European Union summary report on antimicrobial resistance in zoonotic and indicator bacteria from humans, animals and food in 2014”, https://ecdc.europa.eu/sites/portal/files/media/en/publications/Publications/antimicrobial-resistance-zoonotic-bacteria-humans-animals-food-EU-summary-report-2014.pdf