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Press release

Low awareness on the use of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance

Leuven, 09.11.2017

GfK and ICF joined forces to provide EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) with consumer insights on antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The goal of this study was to tackle the risks posed by the use of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance in animal populations, and their links to human health.

The online survey, conducted by GfK, has revealed that consumers in the European Union have low awareness on antibiotics use and antimicrobial resistance in animal farming. Their awareness of how antibiotic resistant bacteria may infect humans was also low.

A majority of consumers identified all uses of antibiotics in farming as factors contributing to AMR. They also believe that they bear a higher risk of being in contact with antibiotic resistant bacteria than any other group (including farmers, veterinarians and meat handlers) because they are persuaded that meat consumption is a key vector in the transfer of antibiotic resistant bacteria from animals to humans and thus underestimating the risks posed by contacts with live animals.

Lack of knowledge about resistance to antibiotics

Only 25 percent of those surveyed, felt that they had enough knowledge about the use of antibiotics in animal farming, whereas 68 percent indicated that they did not have enough awareness on the subject. We presented our respondents seven statements on antibiotics. On average, the respondents gave 3,4 correct answers (i.e. they were able to reply correctly to 49 percent of the statements), which allows us to conclude that, in general, awareness of antibiotics was low.

The lack of knowledge on resistance to antibiotics is also reflected in a low level of awareness regarding antibiotics in general (the respondents knew that resistance to antibiotics is an issue), but they were not aware that resistance is widespread in the farming industry.

Next to that, respondents were somewhat confused about how antibiotic resistant bacteria can be transferred from animals to humans. Respondents believed that antibiotic resistant bacteria are more likely to be transferred from animal farming to consumers than to veterinarians or farmers. The perceived lack of control of consumers over the risk, is leading to perceptions of high risk. They also thought that the risks of transferring resistance were the highest when consuming raw or lightly cooked meat.

Treating healthy animals with antibiotics is perceived as a factor contributing to antimicrobial resistance

Respondents believed that treating sick animals with veterinary prescribed antibiotics was less likely to contribute to resistance compared to other uses of antibiotics (54 percent believes so). On the contrary, 81 percent of respondents considered that giving antibiotics to healthy animals is likely to contribute to resistance to antibiotics. And another 74 percent believes that treating unhealthy animals without a veterinary prescription is likely to contribute to resistance to antibiotics.

Information mostly comes from the media and rarely through campaigns

Consumers indicated that they were obtaining information on such topics principally through traditional mass media (TV, newspapers and magazines) and the internet. The most trusted sources on such matters were scientists and (human and animal) health professionals. There was far less trust in industry, farmers and the media as sources of reliable information. National and European food safety authorities were generally seen a trusted sources by a majority of respondents.

Impact on health?

Half of the respondents (53 percent) thought about whether the resistance to antibiotics in farm animals may have an impact on human health, while 44 percent never or rarely thought about it.

However, respondents generally believed that resistance to antibiotics in farm animals needed to be addressed and that not enough actions were being undertaken. But they also admitted that, even though they felt that action is needed, they seldom changed their behavior.

About the study

The research consisted of expert interviews done by ICF and an online survey of consumers done by GfK.

The online consumer survey was conducted in 12 countries chosen to be representative of significant variations within the European Union on the issues of interest to EFSA and the Advisory Forum Working Group on Communication.

The complete report of this study can be found here.

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