Curbing antimicrobial drug use in livestock becomes more viable
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria from livestock pose a risk to animal health and food security. Researchers in Europe and China are investigating new approaches to tackle the soaring levels of drug use

© Experimental Poultry Centre

Modern livestock production faces major challenges. Global population growth means food production needs to considerably increase over the next decades. However, the insatiable demand for animal food products cannot be met by current farming methods . Efforts to maximise production often involve overuse of antimicrobial drugs.

“Just like for humans, antibiotic overuse in livestock can lead to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Although the EU has banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed, thousands of tonnes are still used for therapeutic reasons in livestock ,” notes Hans Spoolder, coordinator of the EU-funded HealthyLivestock project.

But nowhere are farming practices so intensive as in China, which in recent years has shifted towards highly cost-efficient intensive livestock production systems. This has been accompanied by the use of antimicrobials to keep animals healthy and maintain productivity: the country currently consumes a large share of the global veterinary antimicrobials. Over-reliance on antimicrobials has become one of the key issues of concern in EU and Chinese livestock farming.

The main objective of HealthyLivestock is to reduce the use of antimicrobials in the pig and broiler industry in Europe and China, as well as the subsequent residues in the food chain and the environment. It aims to do this by improving animal health and welfare without compromising productivity.

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