Experts agree that disease prevention and good nutrition promote a reduction in antimicrobial use to treat illness
Global sales of antibiotics for veterinary use are down nearly one-third since 2011, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), with some major livestock-producing countries in Europe, as well as the United Kingdom, cutting sales by more than 50%.
And, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not collect data on the use of antimicrobials in animals and has not set targets for reducing overall sales volume of antimicrobials for animals, it – like many other regulatory bodies around the world – supports the judicious and appropriate use of antimicrobials in sick animals.
“The animal health industry promotes the responsible use of antibiotics which involves a holistic approach to animal husbandry, utilizing tools and expertise to protect animals from the threat of disease, identify health issues earlier and treat them quickly and responsibly,” said Roxane Feller, secretary general of AnimalhealthEurope, which represents manufacturers of animal medicines, vaccines and other animal health products in Europe. “The aim is to reduce disease occurrence so that there is a reduced need for antibiotics. This requires maximizing the long-term and preventative health benefits of tools such as vaccination, nutrition, antiparasitics, biosecurity, disease surveillance, diagnostics, husbandry and other animal health technologies in partnership with the veterinarian.”
FDA spokesperson Anne Norris said judicious use policies affect veterinarians who are on the front lines and are therefore “in the best position to ensure that antimicrobials are being used appropriately. Vets use their experience, extensive education, and training to balance the risk of antimicrobial resistance against the risk of harm if sick animals are not adequately treated. They also work directly with animal producers and examine the animals being treated.”
By focusing on disease prevention, good nutrition and establishing a clear animal health management plan with a veterinarian, the need for the use of antibiotics can be reduced, Feller said.
“New approaches to enhance monitoring of the health status of the individual animals can also be considered to help support more targeted care of the animal. And when an animal shows signs of illness, the vet can use modern diagnostic tools or sensitivity testing to determine the presence of bacterial infection and the correct course of treatment,” she added.
While regulations over the sale and use of antibiotics have tightened over the years, consumer demand for antibiotic-free production has also increased. Consumers are seeking “clean protein,” and it’s up to animal nutrition companies to meet the challenge.
“Consumers, and therefore our customers, down the value chain, increasingly want antibiotic-free protein,” said Christos Antipatis, additives director for Cargill’s animal nutrition business. “Therefore, we partner with producers to supply protein that complies with these demands.”
Combinations of feed additives can replace antibiotics
While only antibiotics can effectively treat bacterial infections and not all illness can be prevented, there are many feed additives that can be used in combination to support animal health and therefore reduce the need for antibiotics use.
“Scientific developments in the nutritional character of individual feeds, development of novel feeds, or feed supplementation can of course support a responsible use of antibiotics by supporting good animal health,” Feller said. “Pre- and probiotic feed additives, for example, can provide multiple, direct benefits ranging from increased immunity to reduced gut bacteria and a more balanced digestive system. This can support a reduced need to use antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.”
Animal health and nutrition companies are constantly working on ways to improve animal health and provide antibiotic-free alternatives for use in animal feed.
“We lead research and innovation and develop products aimed at further reducing the need for antibiotics in food production, partnering with livestock and poultry suppliers and our customers to develop improved feed products that improve animal health without the use of antibiotics,” Cargill’s Antipatis said.
The foundation of a healthy animal is a healthy immune system, he said, and a properly balanced diet supports the immune system. One way to support the immune system is with products in the feed that contain functional metabolites that provide research-demonstrated digestive and immune health effects.
“When the immune system is set up for success, potential upsides include exceptional animal health, a reduced need for antibiotics, greater environmental sustainability, and few food pathogens,” he said.
Aldo Rossi, vice president of innovation and technical service at Amlan International, agreed, saying feed additives are a key factor in developing successful antibiotic-free and no-antibiotics-ever programs.
“Feed additives are essential to maintain gut health, overall health, feed utilization and performance,” he said.
Amlan’s mission, Rossi said, is to offer alternative solutions that can replace antibiotic growth promoters in animal diets.
“Our goal is to provide effective alternatives to synthetic chemicals that will improve the quality and safety of food for human consumption,” he said. These include enzymes, toxin binders, and chemical and natural anticoccidials.
“The challenges of antibiotic-free production stem from the fact that the margins for error in all aspects of production are significantly reduced,” Rossi said. “Management, nutrition, feed quality, gut health management, biosecurity, vaccination programs, hatchery management, brooding, health programs, etc. all need to be modified from traditional methods or practices and reviewed, monitored, evaluated on a constant basis for compliance and execution.”
He said these changes can be costly in the beginning, but costs can be reduced over time as successful programs are developed and become fully implemented and executed.
What’s next on the regulatory front?
In the EU, starting in 2024, reporting of antimicrobial use in animals should comply with the requirements of the new EU Regulation on Veterinary Medicines, which came into force in 2022. The new rules state that member states shall collect data on the use of antimicrobials for cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys, including all categories and stages, and report these data yearly to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) starting September 30, 2024 (the first year for data collection will be 2023).
Additionally, member states shall collect data on the use of antimicrobials for other food-producing species and report these data yearly to the EMA starting June 30, 2027 (the first year for data collection will be 2026). Data on the use of antimicrobials for non-food-producing species, shall be collected and reported yearly to the EMA starting June 30, 2030 (first year for data collection will be 2029).
In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration’s Guidance for Industry #263, which will be fully implemented in June, will transition the remaining dosage forms of medically important antimicrobials for food-producing animals from over-the-counter marketing status to prescription status. After that, all medically important antimicrobials for food-producing animals will only be available under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.
Sources: AnimalhealthEurope and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration