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Dutch Vet Shares Insight into Curbing Antibiotic Use

30 June 2015

NETHERLANDS - The Dutch Chief Veterinary Officer shared some important insights into reducing antibiotic use on farms at the recent AgriVision conference in the Netherlands. Jackie Linden reports.

The conference, held in the Dutch resort of Noordwijk ann Zee, was organised by Nutreco and sponsored by DuPont, Evonik and Rabobank.

Knut Nesse

It was an opportunity to discuss ways in which we can bridge the gap between business, science, society and the consumer in order to work towards a world where enough food of sufficient nutritional quality is available to all, explained Knut Nesse, Nutreco’s Chief Executive Officer, in his welcome address.

One speaker at the conference was Dr Christianne Bruschke, Chief Veterinary Officer with the Ministry of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands, who described animal health management in a societal context as a very topical subject.

She explained that, with 125 million animals and 17 million people in a small land area, her country is among the most densely populated in the world. The agri-food sector there accounts for around 10 per cent of Gross National Production and of employment.

Dr Christianne Bruschke

Furthermore, the Netherlands is the second biggest exporter in this sector in the world, particularly in dairy products, meat, live animals, genetics and fish, worth more than €80 billion in 2014.

While food security is the top priority for many countries, Dutch society worries more about ethical issues such as animal welfare and the environmental impacts of farming.

Antibiotic resistance is also an important subject that has received a lot of political attention in the Netherlands, Dr Bruschke said, adding that the implications for animal and human health represent the Achilles heel for Dutch animal husbandry, as well as being an integral feature of the current political coalition.

A survey a few years ago showed that the Netherlands could be a hot-spot for the emergence of new infectious diseases, such as the recent appearance of the zoonosis, Q fever.

While it will be hard for the country to prevent the emergence of these diseases, the experience with Q fever shows the crucial importance of being able to treat these new infections as well as close cooperation between the medical and veterinary sectors.

Reducing antibiotic use has become a very important area for human and animal health, Dr Bruschke said, as a recent model indicates a dramatic increase across the globe in the coming years, particularly in Asia.

Experience in the Netherlands shows this does not have to be the case, she explained.

In 2009, following the ban on the use of antibiotic growth promoters, the Dutch used the most antibiotics in Europe per head. Since then, a range of measures was introduced that reduced antibiotic usage to one of the lowest.

This was achieved partly through political will, which involved a target reduction of 70 per cent by 2015.

The veterinary sector was given the responsibility of deciding how to achieve the target with measures that included animal health and treatment plans for each farm, mandatory reporting of antibiotic usage and an independent organisation to monitor the results, with the main focus on the extended spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBLs).

By the end of 2014, antibiotic use was down by 58 per cent from the 2010 level, so the 70 per cent target looks achievable by the end of next year. However, this is not the end, Dr Bruschke said: new targets will be set for the period 2016-2020.

She considers that the independent monitoring of farm antibiotic use was key to success in achieving the reductions.

Benchmarking has identified farms as low users (requiring no action to be taken for further reductions), medium users (requiring some action to be taken) and high users (where the farmer and vet are required to take immediate action to address the health issues).

It is clear that, since 2009, antibiotic use has reduced significantly in four sectors: veal calves, poultry, sows and fattening pigs. With the decline showing signs of slowing down in recent years,

Dr Bruschke said that the future focus will be on the farms that are doing less well rather than a more generalised approach.

Veterinary practices are also being monitored and categorised into the green, orange or red zones in a similar way to the farms.

It is important for current and future motivation all the stakeholders to show that the policy is effective, she stressed, showing that the antibiotic resistance of key pathogens is decreasing. It also confirms that the policy was correct although “we are not there yet,” she added.

Ethics, sustainability and antibiotic resistance all have consequences for food safety, she said.

Dr Bruschke concluded that it is important for Dutch agriculture to start exporting these innovations and sharing its knowledge of antibiotic reduction and societal acceptance in future, in addition to its trade in bulk animal products.

Jackie Linden

Jackie Linden

Top image via Shutterstock

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