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News Article

Intervention policies could reduce antimicrobial use in food production


First global assessment of the potential effect of different policies, such as regulations or taxes, aiming to reduce the future use of antibiotics in animal production toward 2030.

The amount of antimicrobials given to animals destined for human consumption is expected to keep rising significantly unless policies are implemented to limit their use, according to research published in Science.

A consortium of researchers conducted a global assessment of different intervention policies that could help limit the projected increase of antimicrobial use in food production. Their results represent an alarming revision from already pessimistic estimates made in 2010, pushed up mostly by recent reports of high antimicrobial use in animals in China.

In modern animal farming, large quantities of antimicrobials are used for disease prevention and for growth promotion. “Worldwide, animals receive almost triple the amount of antibiotics that people do, although much of this use is not medically necessary, and many new strains of antibiotic-resistant infections are now common in people after originating in our livestock,” said co-author Emma Glennon, a Gates Scholar and PhD student at the University of Cambridge. “As global demand for meat grows and agriculture continues to transition from extensive farming and smallholdings to more intensive practices, the use of antimicrobials in food production will increasingly threaten the efficacy of these life-saving drugs.”

Global policies based on a user fee and stricter regulation could help mitigate those ominous projections. “Under a user fee policy, the billions of dollars raised in revenues could be invested in the development of new antimicrobial compounds, or put towards improving farm hygiene around the world to reduce the need for antibiotics, in particular in low- and middle-income countries,” said Dr Thomas Van Boeckel from ETH Zurich, the study’s first author.

Compared to a business as usual scenario, a global regulation putting a cap of 50 mg of antimicrobials per kilogram of animal per year in OECD countries could reduce global consumption by 60% without affecting livestock-related economic development in low-income countries.

However, such a policy may be challenging to enforce in resource-limited settings. An alternative solution could be to impose a user fee of 50% of the current price on veterinary antimicrobials: this could reduce global consumption by 31% and generate yearly revenues of between US$ 1.7 and 4.6 billion.

The researchers say that an important limiting factor in performing the global assessment was accessing sufficient data on veterinary antimicrobial sales volumes and prices. The study is based on publicly available data, limited to 37 countries. Representatives from the animal health industry were approached for the study but all declined to share information on antimicrobial sales or prices.

Read article: Reducing antimicrobial use in food animals by Thomas P. Van Boeckel, Emma E. Glennon, Dora Chen, Marius Gilbert, Timothy P. Robinson, Bryan T Grenfell, Simon A. Levin, Sebastian Bonhoeffer and Ramanan Laxminarayan, published in Science (2017) vol. 357, no. 6358, pp. 1350-1352, doi: 10.1126/science.aao1495

Article details

  • Date
  • 04 October 2017
  • Source
  • University of Cambridge
  • Subject(s)
  • Veterinary medicine