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3. "Denmark's Drug-Free Pigs"

The issue of the use of antibiotics in livestock production continues to attract a high profile – both within the EU and ‘across the pond’. The initiatives taken by Danish pig producers over the years continue to attract positive endorsement – even from unexpected quarters.

”Denmark’s Drug-Free Pigs” was the headline of a recent article in the New York Times. The author was Barry Estabrook, a well known public campaigner for less intensive and more sustainable farming systems. He described his visit to a Danish pig farmer from Zealand, Kaj Munck, who, along with his Danish peers, has taken on board a number of initiatives to eliminate unnecessary use of antibiotics in his production and told him “the idea is to use as little antibiotic as possible but as much as needed”. His aim is to treat any outbreaks of animal disease or illness responsibly.

 

“…as little as possible… but as much as needed”

The author was commenting on the recent launch of President Obama’s 'National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria' to reduce the quantity of antibiotics used by the US livestock industries and help limit the spread of antibiotic resistance. The use of antibiotics for growth promotion purposes is still permitted and practised widely on US farms. Danish farmers stopped using ‘antibiotic growth promoters’ in the year 2000 and in 2006 the rest of the EU followed suit.

The public debate on the use of antibiotics in livestock production has gained significant momentum in recent years. A recent research paper 'Global trends in antimicrobial use in food animals', published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS), looked at the use of antibiotics in livestock production across the world (in 228 countries). They forecast that their use could increase by as much as 67% by 2030, if the expected developments in the consumption of livestock products in current  ‘middle-income countries’, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, continued apace.

Use of antibiotics in Danish pig production continues on a downward trend. Between 2010 and 2013, usage fell by 10 per cent and official figures from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration now show a further reduction of 5% in the latest information available for 2014.

In Denmark, all use of antibiotics by livestock farmers is recorded in the VETSTAT database. Equivalent information is hard to come by for most other EU Member States. But research by the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) for 2012 showed that the ratio of usage in Denmark was significantly below that for most of their main EU pig producing competitors. In spite of this favourable position, the Danish industry has committed to a further 5% reduction in antibiotic usage by 2020.

 

Latest information on EU antimicrobial usage

In the UK, the Department of Health set in motion a five year strategy to limit the use antibiotics in both human and animal medicine. More recently, the National Office for Animal Health (NOAH) published research that indicated a high level of misunderstanding among consumers about the role of antibiotic medicines.