Moving towards sustainable use of veterinary antibiotics, globally

Misuse of antibiotics

Penicillin discovered by the famous Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming, was used to save millions of lives during wartime. Following the discovery,, reliance on antibiotics has increased throughout the twentieth century and overuse of this simple solution has led to an increase in resistance to antibiotics. The scientific community are aware of the growing threat of antibiotic resistance but has this information reached farmers across the world?


Case study: India

A study by Kumar and Gupta, (2018), identified that  antibiotic usage in dairy animals across Eastern Haryana, India was influenced by herd size. Larger herds had more need for antibiotics to manage disease but were more likely use veterinary input rather than buy antibiotics over the counter, whereas small holder farmers tended to buy antibiotics over the counter without veterinary consultation. There was a clear difference in education and affordability between farmers of large herds and small holder farms. In some sub-regions in Haryana there were cases of poor choice of  antibiotics, associated with  misconceptions, poor knowledge, false practices, easy access to antibiotics and absence of  veterinary support. The authors concluded that “prompt action on antibiotic misuse coupled with continuing education and counselling …about prudent use of antibiotics” was required.  Whilst this study highlights a lack of judicious antibiotic usage and education, it also identifies what is needed to improve the situation.

What is the WHO’s advice for antibiotic use?

In 2017 the World Health Organisation (WHO) published new guidelines on the use of antibiotics in food producing animals. This guidance aims to prevent the use of antibiotics in food producing animals as growth promoters or as preventions of disease. This guidance can be found at: WHO guidelines on use of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals

Case Study: Namibia

In contrast to Eastern Haryana, India, Namibia was an early adopter of banning the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and preventive use. Instead farmers embraced husbandry and welfare improvements and vaccination where possible to reduce reliance on antibiotics, using antibiotics only as necessary to treat infections (WHO, 2020). This policy has paid dividends as their standards permit much of their meat to be exported into the EU as it is compliant with the EU’s ban on the use of antibiotics for growth promotion.

This brief review highlights the need for sustainable use of antibiotics to protect human and animal health and welfare. There is clearly evidence of best practice at a national level in Namibia, however elsewhere there is more work to be done in giving guidance and education to farmers. Hopefully countries that still rely heavily on use of antibiotics in every day practice can move towards a better program for use of antibiotics, led by clear guidance, education and veterinary support.


References

Kumar and Gupta, (2018) : http://www.veterinaryworld.org/Vol.11/March-2018/3.html

Namibia ban on antibiotics and hormone treatment: https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/namibia-s-ban-on-antibiotics-in-healthy-animals-drives-meat-exports