Researchers Target Animal Farming, Meat Intake to Avoid Post-antibiotic World

GLOBAL - A new study by researchers at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) and partners analyzes and describes a comprehensive strategy for preserving antibiotic effectiveness by reducing antibiotic use in farm animals up to 80 per cent globally by the year 2030.
calendar icon 29 September 2017
clock icon 4 minute read

The study, published in Science, was co-authored by researchers at the Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University (USA); Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich (Switzerland); the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium); and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Italy).

Overuse of antibiotics in animal food production is fueling a global health crisis in antibiotic resistance. Nearly 80 per cent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to food animals, mainly for growth promotion. Global antibiotic use in food animals outweighs human consumption by nearly three times. Left unchecked, antibiotic use in food animal production will rise 53 per cent globally between 2013 and 2030.

"This scale up in antibiotics, primarily as a substitute for good nutrition and hygiene in livestock production, is simply unsustainable and will be devastating to efforts to conserve the effectiveness of our current antibiotics. We already face a crisis, but continuing to use medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals is like pouring oil on a fire," said the study's senior author and CDDEP Director Ramanan Laxminarayan.

In the Science study, researchers estimated the global impact of three interventions on reducing antibiotic use in animals. Together, these interventions could reduce animal consumption of antibiotics worldwide by up to 80 per cent.

  1. Regulations capping the use of antibiotics in farm animals could achieve a 64 per cent reduction in consumption.
  2. Limiting meat intake to the equivalent of one fast-food burger per person per day globally, could reduce antibiotic consumption in animals by 66 per cent.
  3. Imposing a 50 per cent user fee on the price of veterinary antibiotics could reduce consumption by 31 per cent while generating revenues of US $ 1.7 billion to $4.6 billion per year, which could be used to spur drug development.

Globally, more than 131,000 tons of antibiotics were used in animals in 2013, the researchers found. By 2030, projected consumption will increase to more than 200,000 tons. The current top five users of antibiotics in food production, by country, are:

  • China - 78,200 tons in 2013 (projected to increase 59 per cent by 2030)
  • United States - 9,476 tons (projected increase of 22 per cent by 2030)
  • Brazil - 6,448 tons (projected increase of 41 per cent by 2030)
  • India - 2,633 tons (projected increase of 82 per cent by 2030)
  • Spain - 2,202 tons (projected increase of 6 per cent by 2030)

Even in many countries where current use of antibiotics for food production is relatively low, researchers predict that consumption will explode over the next dozen years. For example, in Uganda, which used 199 tons of antibiotics for food animals in 2013, consumption is projected to double by 2030. And consumption is projected to increase 215 per cent in Vietnam, which used 515 tons of antibiotics for food production in 2013.

Last year's meeting on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) at the United Nations General Assembly recognized the inappropriate use of these drugs in animals as a leading cause of rising AMR.

"We face a critical choice if we are to have antibiotics that work. We can restrict our meat consumption to a recommended daily intake, or adopt state-of-art livestock practices globally to reduce antibiotic consumption," study author Thomas Van Boeckel noted. "We cannot have both without putting the health of future populations at risk."

"A modest user fee on the price on veterinary antibiotics is appropriate given the magnitude of the threat and could discourage livestock rearing practices that involve using large quantities of antibiotics," Dr Laxminarayan added.

"We must act decisively and we must act now, in a comprehensive manner, to preserve antibiotic effectiveness," he said.

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