Antimicrobial Resistance in Food Animals: Possible Threat to Human Health

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 By Njeri Elynn Chege

While antibiotics are fundamental and important in the treatment of animal diseases, its misuse or overuse can greatly contribute to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) which reduces the benefits of antimicrobials. AMR can be described as the ability of microorganisms to multiply and keep thriving even in the presence of an antimicrobial meant to kill or limit their growth.

Why Is This a Rising Concern?                                                                                                         

With growing resistance in livestock production systems, it leads to increased severity of disease which then makes treatment ineffective and reduces productivity of the farms causing great economic losses. The Food Animal Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates an increase in the usage of antimicrobials in the production sector with the pig and poultry production being in the lead.

In livestock, antibiotics are used for various reasons. For treatment of diseases in animals, to control disease spread as a prophylactic measure in lower doses, they are also used as growth promoters to increase productivity. This is common in animals that are reared in confined and overcrowded conditions and reared for maximum yield in production while overlooking the welfare of the animals. This compromises their health and immunity, causing farmers to continuously use antibiotics to manage the constantly occurring diseases in the farm.

Continuous misuse of the drugs leads to unwanted residues present in animal products and animals wastes which lead to contamination of the environment upon poor disposal. This further contributes to AMR where pathogens that are more resistant to the residues persist in the environment. These highly resistant microbes become difficult to manage and control medically.     

It also puts the farm workers at high risk of exposure to resistant microorganisms from animal bodies and waste. In 2010 the European Food Safety Authority revealed that chicken with campylobacter were 30 times more likely to contaminate meat as compared to uninfected birds.

Food products from these animals with high levels of residues end up not being accepted as quality food for human consumption which leads to even more losses for the farmer. In instances where such food products are sold for human consumption, it pre exposes these people to AMR due to slow and continuous systemic accumulation of residues.

Curbing the Spread of AMR in Livestock

Although AMR is a global concern, AMR in developing countries is coupled with several factors that puts the situation in a grave state; lack of access to appropriate antibiotic therapy, use of unskilled personnel by farmers to treat animals, misuse of drugs by the livestock keepers, lack of updated guidelines on the use and treatment of antimicrobials, poor disposal of animal waste in dumps

While still maintaining animal health, welfare and productivity of the animals, FAO provides practical solutions for farmers including; good husbandry and handling of animals by reducing stocking density, ensuring appropriate ventilation, good water and food quality all through the production phases from the farms, transportation to slaughter. Farmers are advised to use breeds that are more resistant to disease and stress and use of disease control measures like vaccinations, good hygiene and high biosecurity measures. By doing this we reduce the occurrence and entrance of microorganisms. In addition, the use of additives to increase the feed conversions like prebiotics, probiotics, enzymes and acidifiers rather than using antimicrobials and good practice of waste disposal to prevent contamination of the environment.

Formation of Antimicrobial stewardship programs whose efforts are centered on enlightening, educating farmers and stakeholders on antimicrobial use and eliminating the inappropriate use of antimicrobials. It would also help to shed light on recurring issues with antimicrobial use that would need to be addressed.

Suitable policies, especially in developing countries, should be formulated in line with World Health Organization (WHO) and should entail enforcing of prescription only laws that will reduce over the counter purchases especially for second and third line drugs, formulation of standard treatment guidelines that also show the appropriate antimicrobial use and drug dosing, halting the treatment of asymptomatic bacteria and reducing the length of surgical prophylaxis. Tools for recording on farm use of medicine would be important in providing an accurate picture of how the drugs are used in various farms.

Veterinary practitioners are advised to always do diagnostic tests such as culture and sensitivity tests in order to choose the most appropriate antibiotic to be used in the case of an infection. This would improve  the efficacy of treatment while still lowering the chances of resistance.

Development of new and rapid diagnostic tests that give quick results would, in the long run, aid in the empirical use of antibiotics while awaiting test results. This would bring a significant change in the rate of antimicrobial resistance occurrence.

Much as the fight against AMR may be challenging, a combined effort from all stakeholders to shed light on the current situation and to provide simple practical solutions, will bring us a step closer to the reduction and eventual stabilization of AMR levels not only in the livestock industry, but the general community at large. 


  1.  “Animal Production | Antimicrobial Resistance | Food And Agriculture Organization Of The United Nations”. 2020. Fao.Org.
  2. Gozdzielewska, Lucyna, and Lesley price. 2020. “Antibiotic Resistance: How Drug Misuse In Livestock Farming Is A Problem For Human Health”.
  3. The Conversation.
  1. Kimera, Zuhura I., Stephen E. Mshana, Mark M. Rweyemamu, Leonard E. G. Mboera, and Mecky I. N. Matee. 2020. “Antimicrobial Use And Resistance In Food-Producing Animals And The Environment: An African Perspective.”
  1. Ram Meena, Hans, and Vikash Kumar. 2020. “Antimicrobial Resistance And Rational Use Of Antimicrobials In Livestock: Developing Countries’ Perspective.”

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