Results of a study from researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland suggest that the volume of antibiotic use in food-animal production might not serve as a reliable predictor of the level of resistance in diseases affecting humans.

The researchers note the common perception that reducing the volume of antibiotics used in agriculture would benefit human health. However, they note, there currently is a lack of scientific evidence to either support or contradict the suggestion.

To address the issue, the researchers developed a mathematical model to examine the factors influencing the risk of transferring resistant pathogens from animals into the human population. They found that, “for a wide range of scenarios, curtailing the volume of antibiotics consumed by food animals has, as a stand-alone measure, little impact on the level of resistance in humans.”

They also found that reducing the rate of transmission of resistance from animals to humans may be more effective than simply reducing consumption of antibiotics in food animals, and that response to any intervention is strongly determined by the rate of transmission from humans to animals.

The research report, titled “Modelling the Impact of Curtailing Antibiotic Usage in Food Animals on Antibiotic Resistance in Humans,” is published in The Royal Society: Open Science.