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EU: New insights on perceptions of antimicrobial resistance

Do you think enough is being done to control or prevent overuse of antibiotics in farm animals? Do antibiotics kill viruses? These are some of the questions that EFSA asked farmers, veterinarians and consumers through its survey aimed at gauging awareness of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) across the EU.

Tuesday 14 March 2017 (2 years 8 days ago)

The survey highlights that there is a lack of awareness on antimicrobial resistance among consumers and that veterinarians and farmers observed a decline in the effectiveness of antibiotics on pigs and poultry.

The survey collected data from just over 3,000 consumers in 12 countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Estonia, and Romania) and 60 farmers and veterinarians in five countries (Denmark, Poland, Spain, Romania, and United Kingdom).


Veterinarians and farmers showed a far better understanding of the relationship between antimicrobial use, resistance in animal populations and human health, than consumers. Only a minority of consumers appeared to be aware of the relationship, or of the channels through which antibiotic - resistant bacteria may transfer from animals to humans. Nevertheless, a minority of farmers and half of the veterinarians questioned the proposition that the use of antibiotics in animal farming constitutes a threat to human health, even if they generally understood the mechanisms through which transfer may occur.

Risk perceptions

Veterinarians and farmers perceived the risks of antibiotic use in animal farming very differently to the way consumers perceived them. Farmers and veterinarians consistently perceived the risk of AMR developing in animal farming as a result of antibiotics to be low. They indicated that they were not worried about this issue (with the notable exception of Spanish poultry farmers). Views among consumers were more diverse. A majority of consumers rated the risks of AMR as fairly or very likely for most possible uses of antibiotics, even for curative uses prescribed by a veterinarian. While farmers and veterinarians consistently rated the risks to themselves and other professionals dealing with farm animals as low, and the risks to consumers as even lower, a majority of consumers considered it fairly or very likely that antibiotic - resistant bacteria may be transferred to them. Consumers ascribed a low probability to the likelihood of transfer to veterinarians, farmers, or meat handlers.

Reasons and rationales underpinning risk perceptions

Individuals tend to assess risks they have (or perceive to have) control over as less acute than those they do not have control over. Accordingly, farmers and veterinarians tended to downplay the risks of using antibiotics in farming, and emphasized their “reasoned” and “correct” use of antibiotics, whereas consumers tended to highlight the risks of using antibiotics in farming. Consumers who had a better understanding of the issues expressed more concern than those who had a lesser understanding. At the same time, the relatively poor level of information and understanding recorded among consumers, and the perception that they were more at risk than farmers or veterinarians – which could be objectively disputed – indicates that better information could also lead consumers to revise down their assessment of the risks. Farmers made frequent reference to their professionalism and the care with which they addressed animal health issues and used antibiotics on farm. They indicated that mass preventative use of antibiotics (metaphylaxis) and their use as growth promoters (which was banned in the EU in 2006) had become less frequent over time. This justified their perception that current uses of antibiotics were better aligned with the objective of minimising AMR. On risks to specific groups, farmers justified their assessment of the risks to consumers by making reference to the role of controls and checks, as well as the processing of meat, in protecting consumers by preventing contaminated meat from reaching them. A number of farmers also mentioned exposure of veterinarians to animals across multiple herds, or to sick animals, as reasons to rate the risks to veterinarians higher than the risks to farmers. Veterinarians were also confident that the use of antibiotics in farming creates little or no risk to different professional groups and for consumers. They thought that antibiotics are being used responsibly and that they are increasingly being replaced by alternative treatments. They were aware of the issue of AMR in animals and of potential human health impacts, but believed that antibiotic use in human medicine creates far more risks than veterinary use. Veterinarians associated the transmission of resistance from animals to humans with frequent contact with live animals. Accordingly, veterinarians (especially in the UK and Denmark) believed that farmers are at higher risk of being colonised by antibiotic - resistant bacteria than veterinarians.

Tuesday March 7, 2017/ EFSA/ European Union.

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