Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics are drugs that kill bacteria or inhibit their growth. The use of antibiotics in livestock farming can entail risks for humans and animals. Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics and this resistance can be transmitted to other bacteria. As a result, infections with these antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more difficult to treat. Wageningen University & Research (WUR) studies the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in bacteria of animal origin.

This dossier contains frequently asked questions about antibiotic use, monitoring and research into preventing spread of antibiotic resistance.

Is antimicrobial resistance a growing problem?

Bacterial resistance to commonly used antimicrobials in people without a history of antibiotic treatment or hospital stay is on the increase. Bacteria with antibiotic resistant traits that are located on mobile genetic elements (plasmids) are a particular concern. These plasmids can easily be exchanged between bacteria,  contributing to spread of antibiotic resistance. This could also lead to multi-drug resistant (MDR) bacteria due to the accumulation of different antibiotic resistance genes. The use of antibiotics in farm animals enhances the selection for MDR bacteria, which increases the risk of transmission to humans.

Can resistance transfer from animals to humans?

It is possible that antibiotic resistance in animals can be transferred to humans via food. The extent to which this occurs for different resistant bacteria is not yet known. However, this is an important reason for drastically reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock.

How much antibiotics are used in livestock?

Use in the Dutch livestock sector was quite high, compared to other European countries, but has fallen sharply in recent years. Since the government started a programme to decrease antibiotic resistance, sales have decreased by 70%. Antibiotics that are important for treating infections in humans have hardly been used for animals in recent years. The decrease in resistance in animals shows the same decrease as the antibiotic use in animals.

How much antibiotics are prescribed to humans?

Compared to other countries, relatively few antibiotics are prescribed for Dutch people. The number of resistant bacteria has also been stable in our country in recent years.

Why is more research needed?

Although the use of antibiotics in animals has declined significantly in recent years and their use in humans is stable, research into use and resistance remains desirable. This will ensure that we can take the right measures to ensure that Dutch people can continue to be properly treated with antibiotics against bacterial infections.

What does WUR research?

Wageningen University & Research takes a One Health approach to addressing antibiotic resistance. Various disciplines are committed to improving human and animal health throughout the chain, and we collaborate on a national and international level.

Wageningen Bioveterinary Research studies the occurrence, spread and prevention of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria of animal origin. This institute is the national reference laboratory of the Netherlands for antibiotic resistance in animals.

Wageningen Food Safety Research investigates food and environmental sources for the presence of antibiotic resistance. In booklets for each livestock sector the institute provides tools for promoting animal health using natural means.