Use of antibiotics in livestock: more stringent rules are imminent

Farmers and veterinary surgeons must adapt to new regulations. On 25 October, the EU Parliament in Strasbourg approved more stringent measures aimed at further limiting the use of antibiotics in animal production. Consequently, fewer antibiotic-resistant bacteria should end up in food.

According to the new measures, no veterinary medicinal products may be used to improve breeding establishments’ performance or to compensate for poor husbandry. Additionally, the continued use of certain antibiotics—specifically, antibiotics of last resort—is to be limited to humans. Metaphylactic treatment (that is, the treatment of other animals although only one shows signs of infection) will only be permitted if a veterinary surgeon has sufficient grounds to recommend it. Furthermore, the legislation stipulates that imported food must comply with European standards—this also applies to imported animal feed. Therefore, foreign countries too may no longer use antibiotics to promote growth in livestock if the products are intended for the EU market. In addition, research into new antibiotics should be extended further. Following the formal approval of the heads of state and government, the member states have three years to implement the provisions. Thus, the regulation will come into effect throughout Europe by the end of 2021 at the latest.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to health worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) had warned of the development of resistance and its consequences as early as 2014. In Europe alone, 25,000 people die from the effects of antibiotic resistance annually. Hence, the use of antibiotics in animal production must be reduced both at a national and at an international level. It is high time that this happens. According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), more antibiotics are used on average in European livestock farming than in human medicine.

In 2015, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) jointly launched the German Antibiotic Resistance Strategy (DART 2020), which incorporates all important measures aimed at reducing antibiotic resistance. Reducing antibiotics to prevent the development of resistance and improve animal welfare has also been duly incorporated into the United Nations’ global sustainability goals and WHO’s One Health approach.

Dr. Eckel welcomes the decision of the European Parliament. After all, since being established almost 25 years ago, the company has relied on alternative feed additives that enable antibiotic-free feeding in agriculture. The aim was and remains to minimise the use of medication through optimised feeding.

For the sake of clarity, it will be a long time yet before antibiotics are entirely dispensable. They will continue to be an important component in the treatment of sick animals. In the case of infection, animals deserve optimal and effective treatment. But we must use any available alternatives if we are to successfully avert the risk of further resistance.

Change ahead: South America

On her trip to South America, Sales Manager Diana Pestka encountered familiar and many exciting new developments.

The first stop on my trip back to my former adopted country was Chile, a country often described as one of the most progressive countries in South America. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why animal welfare and nutrition, and natural and sustainable food production have meanwhile here become the major issues they are in Europe. People at all levels of society are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of antibiotics in animal feed and the effects they may have on humans. Consequently, those who can afford it value healthy eating.

Alternatives to antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) are currently a major issue in Peru too. The supermarket chains are leading here, with their demand for antibiotic-free animals from poultry farmers. Legislation is following suit and has recently amended the AGP regulations. Although old registrations can still be renewed, no new registrations will be accepted in future. What is interesting is that less than 20 per cent of Peruvian broilers are slaughtered prior to sale—most are still sold alive at domestic markets.

In Ecuador, the industry and producers have to contend with difficult structures and low prices, and are looking for alternative markets to which to export their meat. In contrast, the upturn in the shrimp industry along Ecuador’s coast is both impressive and encouraging. Long-established medium-sized feed manufacturers, most of which have since been acquired by international companies, have evolved into large companies. Domestic suppliers in Ecuador have so far been unable to manufacture enough shrimp feed. However, this is expected to change in the coming years due to high investment in the expansion of a number of production facilities. Shrimp exports have already become an important element of Ecuador’s export statistics and have even exceeded banana exports in terms of US dollars.

This is an exciting time for South America. Between emerging domestic companies and investing large multinationals, there is a wealth of opportunity that appreciably drives and encourages the local feed industry. And we are eager to see how this development will proceed in the coming years.