use of antibiotics in animals

WOAH: “Steady decline in the use of antibiotics in animals

The use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine, and therefore in livestock production, is steadily decreasing. A global study by the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) confirms this.

The use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine, and therefore in livestock, is steadily and progressively decreasing. In November last year, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) confirmed that there will be a 47% reduction in the decade from 2011 to 2021, on top of the 5.5% reduction recorded last year.

According to the European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption (ESVAC), in just three years, from 2018 to 2021, the 27 countries of the European Union will see an 18% drop in sales of antimicrobials for veterinary use. A third of the 50% reduction target set by the European authorities for 2030 has already been achieved. However, Europe is not alone in reducing the use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine. A recent report by the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) confirms that the global use of antimicrobials in animals has fallen by 13% in the last three years.

According to Dr Javier Yugueros-Marcos, Head of the Antimicrobial Resistance and Veterinary Products Unit at WOAH, “Less than 20% of the antimicrobials used in animals in 2019 were the highest priority and critical for human health. Collective efforts to ensure responsible use in all sectors are paramount, given that these medicines are the only or one of the few alternatives to treat life-threatening human diseases. In the same year, an estimated four million human deaths were linked to antimicrobial resistance“.

#EU countries have recorded an 18% drop in sales of #antimicrobials for #veterinary use: a third of the 50% reduction target set for 2030 has already been achieved. Click To Tweet

Given the phenomenon’s importance, WOAH is stepping up its awareness-raising campaigns, Yugueros-Marcos says, “as demonstrated by our renewed web portal on antimicrobial resistance, which includes materials for professionals and citizens interested in the subject”. But that’s not all. We continue to work closely with Member States to develop technical capacity in data analysis and decision making,” he adds, “and we continue to develop our international standards in constant dialogue and exchange with our four partners (FAO, UNEP and WHO), implementing the One Health approach.

To better monitor the situation, WOAH has also digitised its database in the online platform “ANIMUSE“, which provides interactively open access to global and regional data by offering easier-to-use tools for reporting, error checking and data visualisation.

The reason for so much attention to antibiotics is linked to the progressive growth of antibiotic resistance phenomena in some pathogenic bacteria. This is the result of inappropriate use of these drugs, particularly in humans but also in animals. The importance of the problem is demonstrated by the more than 30,000 deaths that occur every year in Europe as a result of the loss of efficacy of these drugs, which can be defined as life-saving in terms of their importance. The number of deaths rises to four million if we look at the world as a whole.

It is estimated that four million human #deaths have been linked to #AntibioticResistance. A reduction and careful use of every #antibiotic in the human and #veterinary field is important. Click To Tweet

Two possible strategies to contain the problem are to develop new antimicrobials or use existing ones with great care. If nothing is done, we risk returning to the beginning of the last century, before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928. At that time, less than a century ago, a common bacterial infection could be fatal.

Developing new drugs is a complex and very expensive process, which can take more than ten years and billions of dollars in investment. The main way forward is still to reduce the use of antibiotics and to use them prudently and responsibly, both in human and veterinary medicine. The way forward is the One Health philosophy, which rightly sees human and animal health as increasingly interdependent.

Veterinary medicine is playing its part, according to the findings of all the regulatory bodies, with more than flattering results. A result that applies not only to antibiotics but to the whole complex of drugs used to treat animals. The latest EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) report on animal production confirms that out of more than 600,000 samples tested, only 1.7 per thousand showed traces of undesirable substances, sometimes only environmental contaminants.

Reducing the use of antibiotics may not be enough. At the same time, a distinction should be made between antibiotics used for animals and those used for humans. A European Commission regulation (2022/1255), which came into force in February this year, designates 18 classes of antibiotics for human use only. As a result, less than 20% of the antibiotics used in veterinary medicine have priority use in humans. As for human treatment, a 2021 report by the AIFA (Italian Medicines Agency) highlights the prevalence of inappropriate use, particularly in many diseases of the first respiratory tract. This inappropriate use is increasing and threatens to reduce, if not eliminate, the efforts made by veterinary medicine and, more generally, the entire animal husbandry sector.

Professional journalist, graduated in veterinary medicine, director of journals dedicated to animal husbandry and editor in chief of journals in the agricultural sector, he has held coordination positions in publishing companies. Author of books on animal breeding, he is involved in the divulgation of technical, political and economic subjects of interest to the livestock sector.