EFSA outlines mitigation measures to reduce AMR spread during animal transport

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), following the request made by the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), has recognized the presence of resistant bacteria in poultry, pigs and cattle before transport as one of the main risk factors contributing to the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).  

Minimizing transport duration between farms or to slaughterhouses, rigorously cleaning vehicles, equipment and spaces where animals are loaded and unloaded are some of the measures considered effective in reducing the transmission of resistant bacteria during animal transport, according to the latest EFSA’s scientific opinion.  

“Despite available data showing a reduction in antibiotic consumption in recent years, antimicrobial resistance remains a pressing public health issue that needs to be tackled at global level and across sectors”, said Frank Verdonck, Head of EFSA's Biological Hazards & Animal Health and Welfare Unit.  

“By identifying the main risk factors, mitigation measures, and research needs in relation to the transport of animals, EFSA’s assessment marks another step forward in the fight against antimicrobial resistance, based on the principle of ‘One Health’, which integrates animal and human risk assessment,” added Verdonck.  

The opinion emphasizes the importance of appropriate and effective transport organization. Furthermore, any measure improving animal health, welfare and biosecurity immediately before and during transportation is considered essential to reduce the risk of AMR transmission. The findings of the opinion complement EFSA’s recently published recommendations to improve animal welfare during transport.  

Other risk factors that almost certainly contribute to transmission include increased release of resistant bacteria through faeces, exposure to other animals carrying more or different types of resistant bacteria, insufficient hygiene of vehicles and equipment, and the duration of transport.  Animals from various farms assembled for long periods of time in close contact, environmental contamination, and stress are linked to higher risks, according to the EFSA opinion.  

The findings of the opinion support the most current EFSA guidelines for bettering animal welfare while in transit.  The impact of EFSA’s assessment goes beyond animal health and welfare because many bacteria can be transferred from animals to humans. Treatment of infectious disorders in humans may be compromised if these bacteria develop resistance to antimicrobials.  

According to EFSA, specific scientific studies on the issue of the spread of AMR among animals during transport are lacking. The opinion highlights several data gaps and suggests specific areas where research should focus.