Political action needed to halt ‘explosive’ rise in antibiotics

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

Claus Fertin (right) told reporters any efforts to cut antibiotic use on farms need to be global
Claus Fertin (right) told reporters any efforts to cut antibiotic use on farms need to be global

Related tags Meat Antibiotic resistance European union Denmark Beef Lamb Pork Poultry

Intervention from senior politicians is needed to address the “ridiculous” increase in antibiotic use in countries like Spain, according to the Danish Agriculture and Food Council (DAFC).

Spain and Italy’s use of antibiotics in farming has soared by 20% and 25% respectively compared to 2013, according to data from the European Medicines Agency (EMA). This “explosive increase​” has led the DAFC to call for political intervention to address the issue.

The figures we’re now seeing in southern European countries are ridiculous,​” said Erik Larsen, chairman of the Danish Pig Research Centre, a body under the umbrella of the DAFC. Speaking at a conference of 2,000 pork producers at the Herning Congress, Denmark, Larsen lambasted the rising consumption of antibiotics in some EU states.

Consumption that was already significantly above Denmark’s has now increased even more. Let’s just say that if we really want to eliminate antibiotic resistance, the time for talking is over. We need politicians to take action now.​”

Overall drop in antibiotics

Danish antibiotic use stands at 44.2 milligrams (mg) per animal, while Spain’s usage is nine times higher than Denmark’s at 418.8mg per head of livestock, according to EMA data.

The same statistics reveal EU-wide sales of antibiotics have fallen​ by 2.4% between 2011 and 2014, suggesting most member states are taking a responsible approach to the real threat of antimicrobial resistance.

However, the strong rise of antibiotic use in southern Europe has been described as “a great concern​” by Claus Fertin, CEO of Seges Pig Research Centre. Speaking at the Herning Congress, Fertin suggested efforts to cut antibiotic use in meat farming have to be global as China is responsible for half the world’s antibiotic use, he claimed. Fertin also criticised a joint investigation by The Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that claimed a loophole in import regulation allowed MRSA CC398-infected pigs to enter the UK. He said the article had “many inaccuracies​” about Denmark’s battle with the MRSA superbug.

Take issue ‘seriously’

Denmark is a significant pork producer​ with 90% of its pig meat destined for exports. Despite being one of the EU’s largest pork exporters, the country has taken an industry-leading role by scaling back antibiotics. But senior figures in Denmark’s pig farming community what to see more from politicians to halt antibiotic use.

Instead of Danish politicians spending their time on consulting with ministers, demanding explanations and appearing in the media, I urge them to make their voices heard at EU level,​” added Erik Larsen. “This is where we need something to be done. I hope that politicians across the broad political spectrum will look at these figures and take the situation seriously.​”

Antibiotics and food safety

Salmonella bacteria in imported food products are often resistant to antibiotics that are important in the treatment of sick people, according to Jan Dahl, chief adviser of food safety at DAFC. “This is due to the high overall antibiotic consumption in many countries south of Denmark, but the use of certain antibiotics, such as fluoroquinolones, is a particular factor.​” Dahl said it was “odd​” there had been no “political initiative​” to stop the use of antibiotics deemed of critical importance to human health by the World Health Organization.

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