A global approach to both human and animal health
“With a holistically integrated approach based on farm, feed and health management, antibiotic use can be reduced significantly on a global scale – with equal or even improved productivity.”
Knut Nesse, CEO of Nutreco at the UN High-level Meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance (New York)
Just as microbes know no borders, there are no borders between human and animal health. This led to the collaboration between the United Nations FAO, OIE and WHO which produced a Tripartite Concept Note addressing health risks at the animal-human-ecosystems interfaces.(32)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched a “One Stop Shop” web portal for One Health information. The site aims to contribute to training and educating animal health professionals on several issues related to antibiotic resistance and focuses on 3 main areas : antimicrobial resistance, avian influenza, influenza in Swine.
Bacteria are constantly being exchanged between animals and humans. Animals may carry infectious agents and can contract many infections which are similar or identical to those affecting humans. In some settings, intensive livestock production, fish and seafood farming, and the medical care of household pets rely on the same types of antibiotics as those used to treat people. Antibiotics are often used to treat sick animals, but sometimes also as a preventive measure to protect healthy animals when they are in contact with sick ones or during periods when animals are travelling or exposed to other stress factors.(33) Antibiotics are also sometimes used as growth promoters for livestock, even in the absence of disease: the benefit of this practice is controversial and it has been partially or totally banned in a number of countries, including Mexico, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and the European Union.
The FAO estimates that, every year, 62 billion animals are used for the production of meat, milk and eggs, a figure which is likely to double by 2050. In many countries, the number of chicken and cattle far exceeds that of the human population. Globally, the total biomass of livestock is two and a half times that of the human population.(34) It is therefore not surprising that the majority of antibiotics sold worldwide are used by the meat, dairy and aquaculture industries. Moreover, increasing worldwide demand for meat has led to antibiotic consumption in animals rising by 70% over the past decade(53). Estimates for some countries point to as much as 80% of antibiotics being consumed by these sectors.(35)
Assessing the burden of disease caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria in the veterinary sector and its impact on humans is complex at the global level. However, in countries where data is available, use of antibiotics in livestock tends to correlate with antibiotic resistance in pathogens affecting humans. In its 2011 report Tackling antibiotic resistance from a food safety perspective in Europe, the WHO stated that “resistance in the food-borne bacteria Salmonella and Campylobacter is clearly linked to antibiotic use in food animals, and food-borne diseases caused by such resistant bacteria are well documented in people.”
The first ECDC/EFSA/EMA joint report, published in 2015, unveiled a wide array of correlations between consumption of antimicrobial agents by food-producing animals and occurrence of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria.(36) Extensive monitoring in slaughterhouses and retail outlets in 28 EU countries revealed that more than half of chicken samples (and about one third of cattle samples) contain Campylobacter which are resistant to front-line drugs. The same applies to Salmonella, with multi-drug resistance documented in 56% of chickens, 73% of turkeys and 38% of pigs.(37) In Scandinavian countries, where antibiotic use in pigs and poultry is three to five times lower than the EU average, much lower levels of resistance have been registered.(38)
In 2016, Zimbabwe adopted a national action plan on antimicrobial resistance, based on the “One Health” concept, and bringing together the country’s ministries of Agriculture, Health and Environment. Zimbabwe thus became one of the first developing countries to follow the call of WHO’s Global Action Plan to tackle AMR across the healthcare, agriculture, and environment sectors.
Some restaurants and fast-food chains now advertise antibiotic-free meat in their menu. With the public becoming increasingly aware of the resistance threat, this could become a trend. Raising antibiotic-free animals may be more expensive in some regions or countries, but many consumers are willing to pay more to avoid the risk of eating food containing antibiotics.
Video by Euronews on the use of antibiotics on a pig farm in Catalonia.