Approximately 280 people are dying every year in the UK from blood infections caused by a highly antibiotic-resistant E. coli superbug, acquired from broiler chickens.
According to a new study from an international team of scientists, poultry-associated Extended Spectrum Beta Lactamase (ESBL) E. coli infections in the UK result in an additional 12,500 days in hospital for treatment with antibiotics.
Throughout the EU as a whole, 8,502 cases of blood-poisoning and 1,519 deaths every year are specifically linked to chicken production.
According to a report from the Soil Association ESBL E. coli have become an increasing problem on farms and in human medicine over the past decade. The resistance is caused by modern antibiotics known as third and fourth generation cephalosporins. These are used in both farming and in hospitals making it difficult to work out how much of the problem arises from each sector.
The scientists said: "The number of avoidable deaths and the costs of health care potentially caused by third-generation cephalosporin use in food animals are staggering. The study recommends that urgent worldwide action is taken to limit the use of these antibiotics in all food animals. The Soil Association has been calling for this since 2006."
Soil Association policy adviser, Richard Young, said; "This is the first detailed estimate to emerge of the human-health consequences from the use of antibiotics in European agriculture. It indicates that large numbers of people die of resistant infections due to the over-reliance on antibiotics in intensive livestock farming. It also shows that there are major additional costs to the NHS from treating patients even when they survive the infections.
Since 2012, British poultry producers have voluntarily stopped using all cephalosporins in poultry.