Pew examines antibiotic alternatives in animal ag

Report finds vaccines, probiotics, immune modulators and more can help maintain healthy herds and reduce need for antibiotics.

Pew Charitable Trusts recently released a new report, "Alternatives to Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture," that finds that vaccines, probiotics, immune modulators and more can help maintain healthy herds and reduce the need for antibiotics.

The use of antibiotics in any setting contributes to the growing global threat of antibiotic resistance, so it is important to minimize the use of these drugs, Pew said. This means eliminating unnecessary uses and finding other ways to prevent infections.

In animal agriculture, alternative products play a crucial role in allowing farmers and veterinarians to reduce or largely phase out the use of antibiotics, the report says, noting that vaccines are among the most promising and widely used of these alternatives, but prebiotics and probiotics and other innovative products are also in use or currently are being investigated.

Many alternative products enhance animal productivity and prevent infection at the same time, which could make them particularly attractive for commercial operations. To date, there are fewer options available for treatment, Pew said.

According to Pew, the effectiveness of alternative products can vary considerably by species and purpose of use. More research is needed to understand why efficacy is so variable and to ensure optimized use, but this is complicated by the fact that the mechanism of action (i.e., the molecular processes that generate the desired effect) for many alternative products is not well understood, the organization said. Alternative products also differ in how their use has to be timed to assure effectiveness.

Several factors may hinder the commercial development of these approaches, including practical challenges with bringing these products to market and concerns about limited market size and a potential lack of incentives to use alternatives, particularly if antibiotics remain available to producers and veterinarians, Pew said.

To optimize the use of scarce public research and development resources, the Pew report says priority should be placed on areas of greatest need for products to replace antibiotic use. However, it adds that, to develop an evidence-based prioritization, it is crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of animal disease conditions that necessitate antibiotic use and the roles antibiotic alternatives can play; emphasis is needed on the on-farm antibiotic usage data to tailor and prioritize future research efforts to areas of greatest antibiotic consumption.

Pew concluded that antibiotic alternatives have the potential to reduce antibiotic use in animal agriculture and allow these lifesaving drugs to be preserved for use when absolutely needed to protect human or animal health. Focused research and development will help bring promising technologies to the veterinary market and guide their use. That, in turn, will help reduce antibiotic use in animal agriculture without endangering animal health, productivity and welfare, the report concludes.

A pdf of the report can be downloaded here.

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