Should the meat industry cut out antibiotics?

By Ashley Williams contact

- Last updated on GMT

How should antibiotic use in animals be managed?
How should antibiotic use in animals be managed?
This week marked World Antibiotic Awareness Week – a subject that has divided markets in meat production due to different views and regulations.

Antibiotics have been used on animals for a number of years and for a variety of reasons, but as consumers become increasingly anxious about welfare practices, questions have been raised whether the treatment should be used at all?

World Antibiotic Week, which runs from 12-18 November, aims to increase international awareness of antibiotic resistance and encourage best practice to prevent its spread.

On a global scale, the US and China are the largest users of antibiotics for food production. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 80% of the total antibiotic use in the US is in agriculture, with pigs and poultry receiving five to 10 times more antibiotics than cows and sheep.

Here’s what the industry think about the antibiotic situation:

Responsible use of antibiotics

A report from The Guardian​, published today (16 November), revealed that several UK representatives of medical royal colleges have issued a letter to the UK Government asking it to place public health at the heart of its farm antibiotic policies.

The 12 authors of the letter, including presidents of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Faculty of Public Health, jointly welcomed the European Parliament’s vote for new antibiotic legislation, which would ban preventive antibiotic treatments of animal groups by 2022.

However, the letter added that the government was refusing to accept that the legislation contained a clear ban on preventive group treatments. If the government allowed group prevention to continue, the UK would have some of Europe’s weakest regulatory standards, it said.

This could seriously undermine progress being made in reducing UK farm antibiotic use​,” the letter said. “The government must place public health at the heart of its farm antibiotic policies and to commit unequivocally to banning preventive antibiotic group treatments in livestock​.”

Antibiotics are a precious resource

In contrast to the letter, New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries was supporting this year’s World Antibiotic Week by creating the theme of “Together we can keep antibiotics working”.

The Ministry for Primary Industries strongly expressed that research showed the global growth of antimicrobial resistance was undermining the effectiveness of antibiotics, which are essential for treating bacterial infections.

Like humans, animals sometimes need antibiotics to fight off bacterial infections. Without antibiotics, animal welfare and health would be severely impacted​,” said Ministry for Primary Industries director of assurance Allan Kinsella.

New Zealand has a robust regulatory framework for managing antibiotics and other veterinary medicines. The Ministry for Primary Industries must be satisfied that all antibiotics approved for use in animals are appropriate to the animal before it is registered as a veterinary medicine​.

It is important we use antibiotics in the right way, at the right dose, at the right time, for the right duration. By using antibiotics carefully, bacteria are less likely to become resistant to them​.”

Antibiotic stewardship actions

As part of World Antibiotic Awareness Week, European association Animal Health Europe promoted its antibiotic website designed to support the animal health sector.

The website, Health for Future Generations, was launched by Animal Health Europe’s member The National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) to spread the word on promoting responsible use of antibiotics and safeguard future efficacies.

The website helps those in the sheep, dairy, beef and pig sectors to set out a robust and trusted training programme.

Launched in July 2018, with an e-learning portal for farmers available through online training provider Lantra, the programme provides vets with resources to work with their farmer clients to support the responsible use of antibiotics across farms. These resources, such as presentations and workbooks, enable vets to deliver face-to-face training to farmers. Vets can offer farmers a signed Certificate of Training that can be used as a record for Red Tractor assessment.

We are seeing the very positive effects of these actions in our exchanges with stakeholders, and the more measurable consequences of greater awareness and improved practices to prevent animal illnesses are being demonstrated in recent reporting on antibiotic use​,” said Animal Health Europe secretary general Roxane Feller.

We hope that by sharing these best-practice actions, implemented in the different countries, other stakeholders and other countries can see this as a good source for actionable ideas for improving healthcare practices​.

We would encourage everyone to join the animal health sector in taking up the position that antibiotics should only be used as little as possible as much as necessary, and to act on that principle​.”

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