Antibiotic resistance is forcing the pace of food regulation

Mariclare McGarrity reveals the problems associated with antibiotic resistance and how they can be tackled.

As the world starts to take notice of the threat of antibiotic resistance, new scientific evidence1 suggests that the problem may actually be far greater than previously thought. A recent study published by the respected UK medical charity and think-tank, The Wellcome Trust, highlights worrying trends of bacterial resistance persisting beyond current management techniques.

In the outline of the report, author Dr Maciej Boni explains that in the classic model, when bacteria develop a resistance to antibiotics, it often comes at the cost of their overall health. When the antibiotic is removed, the original bacteria regain their dominance and the evolved versions struggle again to compete. However the new study highlights examples of where this return effect did not kick back in and the evolved versions thrived beyond the antibiotic's withdrawal.

It has long been recognised that getting to grips with veterinary use of antibiotics is one of the key elements to tackling this global threat. Indiscriminate medicating by producers for disease control (rather than treatment) can lead to overuse.

The impact of this scenario is concerning. In terms of veterinary medicine, it is obviously important to maintain the ability to protect animal health and food production. However, the potential knock-on effects within humans must also be given careful consideration.

Authorities across the world have set strict limits on the amounts of veterinary drugs that can be present in food products. Whether it be via an international standard such as the WHO's Codex scheme, or regional in the form of EU regulations, or even national requirements such as the USDA, authorities have established maximum residue limits (MRL) for a wide range of drug residues in food products.

Getting it wrong can be costly because in safety-conscious markets such as the food sector, the stakes are high. In the event of falling foul of standards, product recalls and fines are often just the start of the impacts. In the longer term, producers and processors can find it difficult to restore customer and consumer confidence. Disputes can quickly escalate to diplomatic levels, triggering trade embargoes over particular substances - a recent example being the Russian, EU and Chinese ban on beta-agonist-fed meat. The fact that scientific opinion on that particular issue is hotly contested (the 2012 Codex vote to permit an MRL was passed 69 to 67) shows just how complex the issues facing exporters can be.

To that aim, Randox Food Diagnostics offers its own multiplexing system. The Evidence Investigator is a solution that detects up to 23 different analytes from a single sample, with a wide-ranging test menu.

For more information at

Mariclare McGarrity is senior technical support scientist, Randox Food Diagnostics, Crumlin, Co. Antrim, UK. 

Reference: 1

Recent Issues