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‘Get pigs off antibiotics…’

...was the headline of a recent report in Nature Magazine, calling for more concerted action to address concerns about risks of the spread of antibiotic resistance.

A Danish professor of microbiology called for a coherent global approach towards reducing the amounts of antibiotic medicines given to livestock.

Frank Aarestrup, from the National Food Institute, part of the Technical University of Denmark made this plea in an article in a well respected scientific journal 'Nature' against a background of the emerging international debate on role of animal medicines in the spread of antibiotic resistance, both within the EU in the last year, and more recently in North America, where the US meat industry is fiercely opposing proposals to adopt a more restrictive approach in using antibiotic medicines, either for treating illness in animals or growth promotion purposes.

Professor Aarestrup describes the successes within the Danish livestock and poultry industries in halving the use of antibiotics per kg of meat produced since the mid-1990s. The measures adopted have included banning of the use of antibiotics such as avoparcin and virginiamycin, a voluntary ban on the use of antibiotic growth promoters in 2000, six years ahead of EU legislation, and not allowing vets to benefit from the commercial sale of antibiotic medicines.

Another key factor in the Danish approach has been the detailed surveillance on the use of antibiotics at individual farm level, through the VETSTAT database, as well as the annual DANMAP survey attempting to establish any link between use of antibiotics in both the human and animal populations and the spread of antibiotic resistance.

More recent initiatives have included a ban on the use of certain categories of antibiotics in animals – fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins – which are widely used in human medicines and the introduction of a 'yellow card' system to target farms using above average amounts of medicines.

The latest VETSTAT statistics for the year 2011 showed that overall use of antibiotics had declined by around 20% and the use of cephalosporins had virtually ceased following the voluntary ban, which was introduced during the previous year.

For a copy of Frank Aarestrup’s article, contact jnh@dbmc.co.uk.