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DANMAP results out

The recent publication of the DANMAP Report 2012 confirmed that the livestock industry in Denmark has adopted a highly responsible approach to the use of antibiotics in livestock production but the results still prompted calls from the political establishment for further restrictions.

The use of antibiotics in livestock production and the potential link with the development of antibiotic resistance continues to attract the attention of politicians the world over.

Last month DEFRA published a report entitled 'UK Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy', outlining a 5 year strategy for a more prudent approach in using antibiotic medicines. It stressed the need for better farming practices, as well as better management of disease, improved training in the prescription of antibiotics and better tracking of resistant bacteria.

In the US, whose farming industry ranks among the highest users of antibiotic medicines, both for animal health and growth promotion purposes, the debate has raged with great intensity in recent years. The farming industry seems to be fighting a rear-guard action to maintain the status quo regarding use of antibiotics but a recent report from the public body, ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’ ('Antibiotic Resistance Threats') clearly identified the use of antibiotics in livestock as a risk to spread of antibiotic resistance and called for an end to their use for promoting animal growth.

In September, the DANMAP 2012 Report was published. The annual DANMAP report (Danish Integrated Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring & Research Programme) has been published in Denmark since 1995. It represents collaborative work between the three leading research centres concerned with animal health, food safety and human health – DTU VetDTU Food and the Statens Serum Institut. Its purpose is to provide robust data and research to inform government policy in the area of animal and public health. The objectives of the report are to:

  • monitor the consumption of antimicrobial agents in food animals and humans
  • to monitor the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria isolated from food animals, food of animal origin and humans
  • study associations between antimicrobial consumption and antimicrobial resistance
  • identify routes of transmission and areas for further research studies.

The data on use of veterinary antibiotics is derived from VETSTAT, a national database, in which every prescription of antibiotics in Denmark is registered, according to the farm, the category of animal and the type and amount of medicine prescribed, thus providing a comprehensive picture of veterinary medicine use in the country.

The data for 2012 showed that usage for pigs had increased to 86 tonnes, from 82 tonnes in 2011. This total was significantly below the levels in 2009 and 2010, where usage topped 100 tonnes. During 2010, a new ‘Yellow Card’ card system was introduced by the authorities, where ‘above average’ users of antibiotics, identified via the VETSTAT database, were obliged to formally review their medicines policy to eliminate any unnecessary usage. This initiative had demonstrable effects in reducing usage in the following two years but, nevertheless, the increased use in 2012 resulted in the government proposing further penalties.

The chairman of the Danish Pig research Centre, Lindhart Nielsen, urged politicians to view this relatively small increase in proper context.

"To introduce further financial penalties into an industry, which has already shown that it is among the best in the world, and which WHO has singled out as an example to follow, is playing politics,”

"It’s true that there was a slight increase last year, which was an expected adjustment, but seen within the context of the past four years, we’ve reduced consumption much more than even the minister had anticipated. It seems rather strange, therefore, that it has now been decided to impose further restrictions.”

"With this clampdown, we risk under-treating our animals and therefore adversely affecting animal welfare. Research from Copenhagen University shows that the herds that received the first yellow card, and subsequently reduced their antibiotic consumption, experienced increased mortality. It can be very difficult to accept that one’s animals are not treated properly when they are sick because of concerns about ‘yellow cards’ and penalties. “

This view was given some independent support in a recent blog in Pig Progress, where author and well known UK veterinarian, David Burch, discussed the various methods available for measuring use of antibiotics in livestock. He referred to the UK as a “moderate use” and Denmark as a “very low use” country regarding use of antibiotics in pig production. The Danish approach has attracted much interest internationally, as the public concerns about the spread of antibiotic resistance have intensified.