Antibiotic Use in Animals on Decline in Europe

Animal antibiotic sales fell by 15 percent in Europe, raising hope in the war on antibiotic resistance.

National programs and restrictions are helping cut antibiotic use in European food animals.

Keith Weller/AVMA

An international push to reduce antibiotic resistance in people by limiting the use of antimicrobials in animals is showing promise.

The European Medicines Agency reported Wednesday that animal antibiotic sales across Europe declined by 15 percent from 2010 to 2012. The drop-off in 18 nations ranged from 0.4 to 49 percent.

“These latest figures, which suggest a positive trend in terms of the responsible use of antibiotics in animals in Europe, are highly welcome,” said David Mackay, BVetMed, Ph.D., MRCVS, who directs the agency’s Division on Veterinary Medicines. “However, the report also shows that there is scope for further decrease.”

Antibiotic resistance is potentially life threatening in people. In the United States, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report in September recommending the improved surveillance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the smarter use of existing antibiotics and the development of new drugs.

“The evolution of antibiotic resistance is now occurring at an alarming rate and is outpacing the development of new countermeasures capable of thwarting infections in humans,” the task force stated. “This situation threatens patient care, economic growth, public health, agriculture, economic security and national security.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association has taken action as well, consulting with government agencies and the drug industry, and urging veterinarians to use antimicrobials judiciously in food animals.

All major U.S. drug makers this year agreed to phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials in livestock feed and drinking water and transfer the remaining therapeutic uses to the oversight of veterinarians. Antimicrobials are used in some cases to improve feed efficiency or enhance growth.

The European Medicines Agency identified possible reasons for the decline in animal antibiotic sales:

  • National campaigns promoting the responsible use of antimicrobials.
  • Restrictions on certain antimicrobials.
  • Increased awareness of antimicrobial resistance.
  • Fluctuations in the size and types of animal populations.

 “While additional analysis is needed to confirm the main reasons for this decline, the reduction in the use of antibiotics is a positive sign,” the European Medicines Agency stated.

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