Antimicrobial Resistance Motivates Drive to Reduce Antibiotics in Farm Animals

While the phenomenon is not new, the topic has gained considerable importance for the livestock sector. Naturally occurring resistances of bacteria to antibiotics pre-date the discovery of antibiotics. Samples taken from mummified bodies buried thousands of years ago have been shown to contain genes for antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics in farm animals 

Conventional application of antibiotics, particularly for growth promotion, has come under scrutiny of bodies such as the World Health Organization. Excessive use or misuse of antibiotics in farm animals exerts selective pressure that increases the population of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Consequences of resistance

Antibiotic resistance (AMR) can reduce the efficacy of antibiotics, whether used for growth promotion or treatment purposes. “Today, it appears that antibiotic growth promoters have diminished efficacy today compared to the 1950s,” noted Mr Waxenecker.

Growing awareness of the negative consequences of antibiotic resistance to human and veterinary medicine have made antibiotic reduction an important topic in the animal protein industry.

Drivers of the antibiotic reduction trend

In the 1980s, particularly in Europe, governments led the effort to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in farm animals. In the 1990s, the European Union initiated an ‘AGP exit’ that resulted in an EU-wide ban on antibiotic growth promoters that took effect in 2006.

Today, consumers and retailers are leading the effort—evidenced by the burgeoning growth of clean label products and commitments by food retailers to go antibiotic-free.

“Consumers today want to know more about how food is produced and which types of substances are used,” explained Mr Waxenecker.

Keys for successful antibiotic reduction

Natural and novel growth promoters offer a more sustainable and economic solution for the industry.

The main challenge for producers who look to reduce the antibiotic intensity of their operations is the need for a 360-degree approach that includes biosecurity, health plan, management and nutrition.