Antimicrobial resistance in animals: what major conclusions can be drawn for 2020?

European Antibiotic Awareness Day is taking place on 18 November 2021. For this occasion, ANSES is publishing the results of several monitoring programmes that it carries out to prevent the emergence and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in farm and domestic animals in France. Below is a review of some key findings with Jean-Yves Madec, Scientific Director for antimicrobial resistance and Head of the French surveillance network for antimicrobial resistance in pathogenic bacteria of animal origin (RESAPATH), Gérard Moulin, Deputy Director of the French Agency for Veterinary Medicinal Products (ANMV), and Agnès Perrin-Guyomard, Deputy Head of the National Reference Laboratory for antimicrobial resistance.

What is antimicrobial resistance? 

Jean-Yves Madec: Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist antibiotics. It is the result of antibiotics being overused in human and veterinary medicine. These resistant bacteria can be transmitted from animals to humans, and vice versa. They can compromise the efficacy of certain antibiotics and make it difficult to treat certain infections.

ANSES coordinates several monitoring systems related to antimicrobial resistance. How are they different?

Gérard Moulin: The sales survey of veterinary medicinal products covers 100% of the veterinary antibiotics authorised in France. It monitors changes in practices with regard to the use of antibiotics in various animal species. 

Jean-Yves Madec: The RESAPATH network monitors trends in antimicrobial resistance in diseased animals, for all domestic animal species, including pets. We hope it will pave the way for a European network, EARS-Vet, responsible for the harmonised provision of such data for all European countries.

Agnès Perrin-Guyomard: The monitoring programme run by the National Reference Laboratory for antimicrobial resistance is based on a harmonised, standardised system at European level. It aims to evaluate and monitor antimicrobial resistance in healthy food-producing farm animals and their meat. It involves active surveillance with representative sampling in the monitored production sectors.

What are the main results for 2020? 

Gérard Moulin: Overall, the exposure of animals to antibiotics decreased slightly compared with 2019, which was in line with the trend observed since the start of the monitoring programmes. Exposure to colistin, an antibiotic that is commonly used in veterinary medicine and is reserved for severe cases in human medicine, decreased by 66% versus the reference level from 2014-2015 in the cattle, pig and poultry sectors. The target of a 50% reduction, which had been set by the Ecoantibio 2 plan, was therefore met.

Read the report on the Sales survey (PDF) of veterinary medicinal products containing antimicrobials in France – 2020 (in French).

Jean-Yves Madec: Trends in antimicrobial resistance have remained favourable, either decreasing or staying the same for most antibiotics, in particular those of critical importance to humans (cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones), whose efficacy in human medicine must be preserved. Nevertheless, we have noted a point that warrants vigilance in dogs, cats and horses, which have been showing the opposite trend with respect to certain antibiotics over the past two years.  

> Read the RESAPATH 2020 report (PDF) (in French)

Agnès Perrin-Guyomard: Resistance is tending to decrease overall. Salmonella is still susceptible to antibiotics of critical importance to human health. Similarly, the susceptibility of Campylobacter to macrolides, which are antibiotics of choice for treating campylobacteriosis in humans, has been preserved. The proportion of E. coli (an indicator species for the spread of antimicrobial resistance) strains susceptible to all of the tested antibiotics is increasing in all of the monitored animal populations, except for pigs. Lastly, the prevalence of cephalosporin-resistant E. coli is steadily decreasing in all monitored situations and animal species. 

Read the report on the Monitoring of antimicrobial resistance (PDF) in zoonotic and commensal bacteria isolated from food-producing animals and food thereof. Results for 2014-2020 (in French).

What are the recommendations for preserving the decrease in antimicrobial resistance in animals and keeping this resistance from spreading to humans? 

Jean-Yves Madec: Antibiotics should only be used when necessary, complying with the recommendations by animal species and the regulatory requirements. Limiting the use of antibiotics also means taking preventive measures, to keep bacteria from spreading and ensure the good health of animals, such as vaccination, hygiene measures, and measures to ensure water and food quality.  The transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from animals to humans can be prevented by taking some simple steps such as washing your hands after touching an animal.