Europe plans to reduce, replace, rethink antimicrobial use

Successful strategies follow integrated, multifaceted approach that takes local livestock production system into account and involves all relevant stakeholders.

January 24, 2017

3 Min Read
Europe plans to reduce, replace, rethink antimicrobial use

Reducing the use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals, replacing them where possible and rethinking the livestock production system is essential for the future of animal and public health, according to experts from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the world’s most pressing public health issues, and the use of antimicrobials in animals contributes to this problem, so limiting their use to the minimum necessary to treat infectious diseases in animals is crucial, EFSA and EMA said.

The ESFA and EMA experts have reviewed the measures taken in the European Union to reduce antimicrobial use in animals and stress that there is no one-size-fits-all solution; successful strategies follow an integrated, multifaceted approach that takes into account the local livestock production system and involves all relevant stakeholders — from governments to farmers.

“It is clear that strategies that are already available can be implemented immediately and will have a positive impact on levels of antimicrobial resistance. At the same time, there is a need for innovative solutions. We need to find alternative ways to prevent and treat bacterial infections in animals,” EFSA executive director Dr. Bernhard Url said.

“There are only a few new antibiotics in the development pipeline; hence, those already available need to be used responsibly, both in humans and animals," professor Guido Rasi, EMA executive director, added. "Collecting data on AMR and antibiotic consumption is key to putting into place effective measures to control AMR and retain the effectiveness of antimicrobials for the benefit of public and animal health.”


Control strategies that have been important drivers of change include setting national targets to reduce antimicrobial use, EFSA and EMA said. The use of antimicrobials in animals should be reduced to the minimum necessary to treat infectious diseases. Other than in exceptional cases, their use to prevent such diseases should be phased out in favor of alternative measures, the European agencies added.

Critically important antimicrobials for human medicine should be used in animals only as a last resort.

Alternatives to antimicrobials that have been shown to improve animal health and, thereby, reduce the need to use antimicrobials include vaccines, probiotics, prebiotics, bacteriophages and organic acids, EFSA and EMA said.

However, reducing the use of antimicrobials and finding alternatives is not enough. There is a need to rethink the livestock system by implementing farming practices that prevent the introduction and spread of the disease into farms and by considering alternative farming systems that are viable with reduced use of antimicrobials. Education and awareness of AMR should be addressed to all levels of society but with veterinarians and farmers in particular.

The experts concluded that it is reasonable to assume that reducing antimicrobial use in food-producing animals will result in a general decrease in antimicrobial resistance in the bacteria the animals they carry and the food products derived from them. However, the experts could not quantify the impact single reduction measures or antimicrobial alternatives would have on levels of antimicrobial resistance in food-producing animals and their food products due to a lack of data, EFSA and EMA reported.

Next steps

In February, EFSA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC) will publish their annual report on the levels of antimicrobial resistance in food, animals and humans across the EU.

EFSA, EMA and ECDC are also working on a report that assesses the link between consumption of antimicrobials and development of resistance in bacteria found in animals and humans. This report is due to be published at the end of July.

By the end of 2017, the three agencies will propose a list of indicators enabling risk managers to monitor the reduction of AMR and the use of antimicrobials in people, food-producing animals and food.

For more information, see the EMA and EFSA joint scientific opinion on measures to reduce the need to use antimicrobial agents in animal husbandry in the EU and the resulting impact on food safety.

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