Increased Opposition to Antibiotics in Europe and the U.S.

Written by: Dr. Simon M. Shane

Dec 12
Increased Opposition to Antibiotics in Europe and the U.S. Dr. Simon M. Shane

The Danish Parliament has ratified a new protocol for the use of antimicrobials in animal production.  In announcing the changes which also introduced new standards for welfare, the Minister for Food Agriculture and Fisheries Metti Gjerskov stated “the new rules provide an incentive to make sure that medicine is given only to individual animals in need of treatment and not to the entire herd as a matter of course” She added “this is a significant step in the further reduction of the use of antimicrobials in farming and is a very important part in the fight against antimicrobial resistance which is a serious threat to human health”  Denmark subscribes to the One-Health perspective which recognizes the commonality between livestock and consumers.

In the U.S. the Consumers Union continues their campaign against antibiotics in livestock and poultry production.  They characterize the current level of antibiotic use as a “crisis situation”.  The Consumers Union, through its respective spokespersons including Jen Halloran, frequently exaggerate and cite dubious facts to buttress their stance. Notwithstanding their hype there is a growing realization that antibiotic use in animals may be associated with increasing emergence of drug resistant organisms in human medicine.

The approach now adopted by the Consumers Union follows the successful campaign by the HSUS to phase-out gestation crates for hog production.  Activists groups have ascertained that a direct approach to quick service restaurants and members of the food marketing institute achieves results.

There is obvious pressure on producers to limit their routine administration of antibiotics for the purposing of promoting growth and enhancing feed conversions efficiency which has direct implications for profitability.  Fortunately prebiotics and probiotics can be used to enhance immune status and performance. In many cases problems such as E.coli infection in poultry can be prevented by appropriate vaccination combined with reducing the contributory environmental factors.  The comprehensive approach adopted by the Danes with regard to both antibiotic administration and welfare are evidently synergistic in terms of health.

 There is no question that flocks or herds which are infected with a specific organism require treatment with an antimicrobial of proven efficacy.  This requires professional judgment supported by laboratory resources involving isolation and identification of pathogens and determination of susceptibility. The Prudent Use Principles developed by the FDA and promoted by the AVMA are unfortunately observed more in the breach than in compliance.

As we intensify production of livestock and poultry to feed burgeoning populations the risks and consequences of infection will increase. The need for optimal control of the environment, immunization, biosecurity and good management practices must be emphasized in planning and production.  The judicious use of antibiotics for therapy is supported by all reasonable producers and health professionals.  Enhancing the function of the immune system and regulation of the microflora of the intestinal tract contribute to optimal performance especially when coupled with adequate nutrition and appropriate control of ventilation and housing.

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