Image: Human DNA. Philippe Plailly, Science Photo Library, Scanpix

When antimicrobials don’t work – one of the biggest threats to health

Tuesday 19 Nov 19


Frank Møller Aarestrup
Professor, Head of Research Group
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 62 81

According to figures from the EU, antimicrobial resistance kills 25,000 Europeans annually. The WHO considers antimicrobial resistance to be one of the biggest threats to human health, and the National Food Institute has made Denmark a global pioneer in the battle against resistant bacteria.

Repeated use of penicillin and other types of antimicrobials can cause these substances to lose their effect because the bacteria develop resistance to the substances. This can make it more difficult—and impossible at worst—to treat bacterial infections in humans and animals. When bacteria become resistant, even a trivial infection can be fatal.

In the 1990s when researchers started looking at the amount and type of antimicrobials that were used to treat animals and humans, it became evident that resistant bacteria spread from animals to humans via the food chain. Ever since, the National Food Institute has researched antimicrobial resistance and been a world leader in the global monitoring of the ways in which resistance spreads. 

The research is crucial in order to advise national and international authorities and other stakeholders on how to minimize antimicrobial resistance nationally and globally.

Data ensure better surveillance

Since the turn of the millennium, when the National Food Institute along with the WHO took steps to create a global overview of antimicrobial resistance in Salmonella bacteria, the way in which research is conducted has developed significantly. Whole genome sequencing is a brand new technique, which can identify disease-causing microorganisms’ entire DNA profile in one go. This new approach offers the researchers a head start when trying to discover outbreaks of diseases among people and animals.

Sewage reveals resistance

Researchers at the Institute have also examined the sources that create a basis for outbreaks of diseases and cause bacteria to develop resistance. In an international study headed by the National Food Institute, sewage from 74 cities and 60 countries has been analysed in order to create an overview of the amount and type of resistant bacteria that healthy people carry. The results have shown that it is not only an excessive use of antimicrobials, which creates resistance.

Read more 

Read more about the National Food Institute’s efforts to combat antimicrobial resistance and disease outbreaks in an article in the National Food Institute’s 60th anniversary publication: When antimicrobials don’t work – one of the biggest threats to health.

The National Food Institute is celebrating its 60th birthday this year, as it was decided on June 5, 1959 to establish a national food institute in Denmark. The other articles from the anniversary publication will be published over the coming months.

You can also read the article: At the forefront of healthy, safe and sustainable food.

The National Food Institute prevents disesase and promotes health

Consumers are increasingly interested in their health. Magazines and news media are brimming with advice on healthy eating, exercising more and healthy living in general – and the demand for healthy and safe foods continues to increase. 

However, at the same time, more and more people are affected by infectious diseases and lifestyle diseases, and exposure to chemicals can lead to cancer and inhibit our ability to reproduce.

Thus, research that promotes health and prevents disease is very important.

The majority of the research projects, scientific advice to authorities, cooperation with businesses and teaching activities at the National Food Institute have the fundamental vision to make a difference by preventing disease and promoting health in a number of areas: 

  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Unwanted effects of chemical substances
  • Nutrition
  • Food allergy
  • Microbiological food safety
  • Hygienic design in the production of food
  • Risk-benefit assessments of health effects
  • Chemical food analysis
  • Nano-materials in foods
  • Risk assessments
  • Gut health
  • Development of health food and ingredients.


Image: National Food Institute