Today (25 October 2018), new legislation has been approved by the European Parliament to ban the prophylactic use of antibiotics in farming, which will come into force in 2022.
Preventative antibiotics can be routinely given to farm animals – particularly to pigs and poultry - to compensate for the substandard living conditions where disease outbreaks are common and harder to control, and to prevent infection, for example in the early weaning of pigs.
Estimates suggest that in Europe two thirds of our antibiotics are used on livestock animals.
The overuse of antibiotics has become a growing concern as there is strong evidence to suggest that it has contributed to an increase in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can spread to people. Antimicrobial resistance occurs when organisms develop mutations that render antibiotics ineffective.
According to latest estimates, 73% of the world’s antibiotics are used in farming, and the EU’s position is now largely consistent with that of the World Health Organization, which last year produced guidelines on farm antibiotic use. The WHO called for an end to preventative group treatments and for severe restrictions on the use of certain antibiotics classified as high-priority critically important in human medicine.
This new legislation is a huge step away from preventative group treatments of healthy animals towards a more responsible use of antibiotics in livestock farming.
Preventative antibiotic treatments for individual animals will still be permitted in exceptional circumstances where the risk of disease is high. Group treatments will also be allowed if disease has been diagnosed in some of the animals and there is a high risk it will spread to others, and no alternative treatments are available.
The new EU legislation still needs to be formally approved by the Council of Ministers, but provisional approval by the Council was given earlier this year.
Improved production = fewer antibiotics
Compassion has been working with the food industry to encourage the adoption of farming practices that prioritise animal health and welfare, reducing the need for antibiotics to be routinely used.
Making improvements to production systems – such as the lowering stocking density and using more robust breeds – are essential to significantly lower or remove the need for, antibiotics.
For example, recent data from the Netherlands (2016) showed that market concepts using slower growing broiler breeds used more than 3 times less antibiotics than those using fast growing breeds.
Compassion has developed an Antibiotic Stewardship Programme (ASP) to encourage companies to adopt a roadmap for responsible antibiotic use with the aim of eliminating or robustly regulating the use of antimicrobials.
By operating a higher welfare system - underpinned by good management and good welfare - any company with animals in its supply chain can reduce or totally remove its reliance on antibiotics.
The responsible use of antibiotics is a key element of corporate responsibility and an effective ASP is vital in order to protect animal health and welfare today and maintain the efficacy of our antibiotics into the future.