in Extra Matter

Two antibiotic surprises

UK government reports on antibiotic use in agriculture have resulted in calls for farmers to reduce their non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. To do that, though, it would help to know how much antibiotics farms actually use, a number that is surprisingly hard to uncover. A new survey of 358 dairy farms by the Dairy Herd Health Group at the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science provides some clues.[1]

The key finding is that farms vary a lot. More than half the antibiotics (per kilogram of cow) are used on just a quarter of the farms. The researchers point out that a good first step to reducing overall use of antibiotics on dairy farms would be to concentrate on the few farms using the most antibiotics.

Pressure may also come from supermarkets. On Wednesday The Guardian reported that first Marks & Spencer and then Waitrose, two of the more upmarket food retailers in the UK, published figures on the use of antibiotics by their suppliers.

And, in (almost) unrelated news, researchers at Arizona State University have discovered that bacteria in honeybee guts can transfer antibiotic resistance from one species to another. According to a press release:

“To our surprise, we found that instead of one gut bacterium acquiring resistance and outcompeting all the other gut bacteria in honey bees, the resistance genes spread in the bacterial community so that all strains of bacteria survived,” said Gro Amdam, a professor with ASU School of Life Sciences and co-author of the paper.

I’m surprised that this was a surprise. Horizontal transmission of antibiotic resistance among gut bacteria has been a concern in livestock and people since at least the 1960s. Why would bacteria in bees be any different.


  1. The article – Hyde, RM., Remnant, JG., Bradley, AJ., Breen, JE., Hudson, CD., Davies, PL., Clarke, T., Critchell, Y., Hylands, M., Linton, E., Wood, E., Green, MJ. (2017) Quantitative analysis of antimicrobial use on British dairy farms Veterinary Record 181, 683. – is behind a paywall. I relied on a press release. []

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