Antimicrobial guidance published by European Commission

By Keith Nuthall

- Last updated on GMT

Guidance on the use of antibiotics in livestock has been issued by the European Commission
Guidance on the use of antibiotics in livestock has been issued by the European Commission

Related tags Antimicrobial resistance Eu member states European union Beef Livestock Pork Poultry

Guidance on curbing the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in livestock rearing across the EU, including the injection of eggs by poultry producers, has been released by the European Commission (EC). 

The EC has noted that antimicrobial resistance (AMR), worsened by such practices, causes 25,000 deaths in the EU annually and costs more than €1.5 billion in healthcare expenses and productivity losses.

It said its proposed controls could “contribute to the control of AMR”​ in animal and human medicine.

The advice is not binding on governments. However, Brussels advised EU member states to focus their animal antimicrobial resistance strategy on “species commonly treated with mass or group medication – pigs, poultry, veal calves and rabbits – but not to the exclusion of other food-producing and non-food-producing species”​.

The guidance is particularly detailed and includes species-specific advice. This covers:

*Poultry:​ here, the EC is also concerned about prophylactic treatment of the young. It warns this “is frequently carried out immediately before or after transport of day-old chicks…”​ Producers even inject eggs. This and injections of day-old chicks “should be avoided entirely, unless justified for exceptional reasons…”​, the advice urges. Antimicrobials should not be used to control salmonella in poultry, said the EC – a key problem in the industry. Vaccination management should be designed to avoid stress reactions, it added. The use of third- and fourth-generation cephalosporins, a type of fungus-based antibiotics, in poultry (including eggs) should be banned, it argued.

*Pigs:​ the advice includes avoiding the prophylactic use of antimicrobials in new-born piglets (and after weaning); ‘all-in all-out’ disinfection of units when new animals join a herd; and checking ventilation, especially in summer as heat can promote illness.

*Cattle:​ the EC wants an end to the use of antimicrobials to prevent, rather than treat, disease in new-born calves. It wants producers to avoid feeding calves with waste milk from cows treated with antimicrobials.

*Rabbits:​ the guidance includes improving ventilation and housing quality to reduce disease that may require antibiotics.

In general, the EC has made clear that it wants a harmonised monitoring system developed to generate an EU-wide view of antimicrobial treatment of livestock. It said: “Member states are encouraged to analyse and publish the data on antimicrobial use collected at national level. This should preferably include data on usage by species and age group…”

Brussels hopes that as technology evolves, the systematic collection of data on veterinary antimicrobials use should become more efficient.

“This will allow prescribers, dispensers and users who do not comply with prudent use principles to be detected more easily, facilitating the education and, if necessary, sanctioning of the individuals involved,”​ it said.

Where existing compulsory controls outside this new guidance are breached – this could include where veterinary medicine is subject to EU marketing authorisation controlling dosage, administration methods and disease targets – the new guidance says that all EU member states should implement holistic national strategies on fighting antimicrobial resistance, including animal health and welfare, as well as human consumer and environmental policies.

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