Microorganisms put up a fight

A soon to be released study by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s is exploring the potential alternatives to using antibiotics in food-producing animals. The five-year long research project was first proposed to determine if modifying the diet of poultry could be considered an acceptable alternative to using antibiotics by testing whether certain dietary adjustments or supplements have an effect on the presence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in retail meat or not.

There exists a common misconception that antimicrobial resistance develops in the human body when eating or coming in contact with retail meat, like poultry or beef, produced from an animal that was raised being treated with certain antibiotic medications. It is thought that the more antimicrobials are used in animals, the more we expose certain bacteria and other microorganisms to the antimicrobials, giving them the opportunity to develop resistance.

This comes from the perception that exposure to meat products that may contain bacteria that is resistant to antimicrobials creates a higher chance of the human body developing an intolerance or resistance to the antimicrobials found in some antibiotics, thereby making it more difficult to treat and fight various bacterial infections or diseases.

However, antimicrobial resistance does not develop in humans, it develops in bacteria that ends up in the human gut which carries antimicrobial resistance in its DNA to some antibiotics. S

ome of the bacteria have an intrinsic, natural resistance to certain antimicrobials and other bacteria can develop the resistance when using antibiotics, in humans or in animals, due to selection pressure. Selection pressure explains that regardless of how effective an antimicrobial might be, it will rarely kill 100% of an illness-causing bacteria.

This means that at least one microorganism out of thousands may have developed resistance to a particular antimicrobial and the few surviving, potentially resistant bacteria could then transfer their genetic material to offspring or even other unrelated organisms, like pathogenic bacteria.

According to Dr. Mueen Aslam, a contributing researcher on the alternative to antibiotics study, there is a variety of potentially useful ingredients that could be added to the feed or drinking water of a poultry flock to improve the growth of the animals or to reduce the spread of disease.

If simple dietary adjustments make it possible for to raise food-producing animals to grow bigger and healthier, it would eliminate, or reduce, the need to use antibiotics and decrease the risk that bacterial resistance to certain antimicrobials would develop. The study will be published in April 2013.

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