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Preventing Resistance by Reducing Use of Antibiotics in Farm Animals
2018-12-31 10:35:56
Giselle Rances

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Photo by: Ewais via Shuttersock

The global health crisis in antibiotic resistance is primarily fueled by an increase in the use of the antimicrobials in animal farming.Application of antimicrobials in livestock farming has especially been linked to drug-resistant infections in both humans and animals.

A new study published in Science analyzes and recommends comprehensive strategies for conserving antibiotic effectiveness by reducing their worldwide usage in livestock for food consumption by up to 80 percent between now and 2030.The paper was co-authored by researchers at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy (CDDEP); the Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University; the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium; Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich; and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Italy.

Antibiotic use in animal foods around the world outweighs human consumption almost three-fold.They are mainly used for growth promotion and as a substitute for hygiene and proper nutrition.Globally, the animal food production industry used over 131,000 tons of antibiotics.The current top five consumers of animal antibiotics are:

country

amount used in 2013 (tons)

Projected increase by 2030 (%)

China

78,200

59

USA

9,476

22

Brazil

6,448

41

India

2,633

82

Spain

2,203

6

Even in other countries that don’t use a lot of antibiotics for food production, researchers predict an explosion in consumption over the next decade.For instance, in Uganda (which used 199 tons in 2013), intake of antibiotics in farming is estimated to double by 2030.And in Vietnam, which used 515 tons in 2013, the usage is expected to increase 215 percent by 2030.If left unchecked, the authors project a global rise of 53 percent between 2013 and 2030.

“This scale up in antibiotics is simply unsustainable and will be destructive to efforts to preserve the efficiency of our current antibiotics,” said CDDEP Director Ramanan Laxminarayan, the study’s senior author.He went on to point out that the world is already in a crisis, and that carrying on with the application of medically important antibiotics in animal growth promotion is like “pouring oil on the fire.”

In the recent study, the authors expressed concerns that antibiotic resistance cannot be prevented by addressing the drug’s use in humans only, given its extensive application in food production.They estimated the global impact of 11 recommendations for reducing antibiotic use in livestock, which they summarized into the following three key interventions:

1.    Putting in place regulations to cap the use of antibiotics in food animals could achieve a 64-percent decrease in consumption.

2.    Limiting global meat consumption to the equivalent of one fast-food burger per head on a daily basis has the potential to reduce antibiotic intake in animals by 66 percent.

3.    Foisting a 50-percent user fee on the price of veterinary antibiotics could decrease consumption by up to 31 percent, as well as generate revenues between $1.7 billion and $4.6 billion per year, which could be put into good use spurring drug development.

Last year, a meeting on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) held at the United Nations General Assembly acknowledged the inappropriate use of these drugs in farm animals as the leading cause of rising AMR. “We face a crucial task if we are to maintain antibiotics that work.We could restrict our meat intake to a proposed daily rate, or adopt state of the art livestock rearing practices worldwide to lessen antibiotic consumption.We cannot have both without risking the health of future populations,” noted Thomas Van Boeckel, one of the study’s authors.

Laxminarayan also agrees with the idea of a modest user fee on the price on veterinary antibiotics, given the severity of the threat.He believes the extra cost will discourage livestock rearing practices that employ the massive use of antibiotics.Netherlands and Denmark have already implemented such reduction targets.

The researchers also recommended:

•    The termination of routine antibiotic use over extended periods for disease prevention

•    Adopting healthy farming practices that will keep the animals from falling sick in the first place

•    Phasing out antibiotics that no longer have proven efficacy in animals

•    Improving veterinary oversight

•    Prioritizing antibiotics that are not “critically important” to human health

Epidemiology professor Tara Smith of Kent State University says the absence of detailed data records is the biggest challenge right now. “We have no fine-grained data to help us understand the epidemiology of the different kinds of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, and how the resistance forms gradually through the use of a particular antibiotic in specific livestock,” she observed.

The authors called for governments to collaborate with producers in the development of a unified system for detailed data collection on the use of antibiotics beginning from farm level, and in the creation of a metric.This coordination would equip experts with enough information for comparing the usage of antibiotics in different species and discerning trends over time.Centralized data collection systems in Netherlands and Denmark have already helped reduce the use of antibiotics in farmed animals by 64 percent and 47 percent, respectively.Perhaps the rest of the world could learn something from them.

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