Bacteria that are resistant to antimicrobials are not only found in people, they also occur in animals, in our food, and in the environment. Resistant bacteria from these sources can then spread to people or other animals. There are many routes by which resistant bacteria can spread. It is important to have a thorough understanding of how specific types of bacteria are spread. That will enable us to develop and apply effective measures.

Antimicrobial resistance in the livestock farming sector

If animals get a bacterial infection, they may need antimicrobials. In animals, too, bacteria can become resistant to antimicrobials. These bacteria can spread through direct contact with people. This mainly happens in the livestock farming sector. In the Netherlands, this sector uses higher levels of antimicrobials than the livestock farming sectors of other countries. Thanks to steps that have already been taken, antimicrobial use has fallen by around 60% over the past seven years.

  • No-one can obtain antimicrobials without a vet’s prescription.
  • The farm in question must be inspected and assessed by a vet. Until this has been done, vets may not prescribe antimicrobials and administer them to sick animals.
  • Livestock farmers can only administer antimicrobials themselves under strict conditions.
  • Poultry farmers, dairy farmers, veal farmers and pig farmers all have to register the use of antimicrobials on their farms. The Netherlands Veterinary Medicines Authority records this data and draws up rules for the proper use of antimicrobials.
  • Some antimicrobials are used as a ‘drug of last resort’ in human patients. The use of these drugs in animals is either completely prohibited or subject to strict conditions.
  • If animals contain antimicrobials residues, then livestock farmers are not allowed to deliver them for slaughter.

The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) monitors the registration of farms and the use of antibacterials in the livestock sector.

Antimicrobial resistance in food

Bacteria can also spread through food. This includes bacteria that are resistant to antimicrobials. They can be carried on uncooked vegetables or fresh herbs, for example, or in meat from animals that carry resistant bacteria. For this reason, it is important to apply effective hygiene measures.

Antimicrobial resistance in the environment

Resistant bacteria are also found in the environment. In the Netherlands, the levels of such bacteria in the water, the soil and the air have been monitored for about 15 years now. The main sources of these resistant bacteria are human waste water, the manure produced by farm animals (such as pigs, chickens and cows), and the droppings of wild animals. In these ways, resistant bacteria can enter surface water (such as rivers, canals, swimming areas, and bodies of water used for recreational purposes), the soil (via manure) and the air (around farms, for example).