Germany Measures Antibiotic Use on Farms

GERMANY - Data on the amount of antibiotics used in livestock farming are to be collected for the first time. On average, a German pig receives antibiotics for 4.2 days over the 115-day growing period.
calendar icon 14 August 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

Germany and neighbouring European countries are to systematically collect antibiotics consumption volumes in livestock farming, according to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the University of Veterinary Medicine Foundation Hannover and the University of Leipzig.

The use of antibiotics in livestock farming is controversial because it can lead to resistance in bacteria. In a scientific study sponsored by the three organisations collected and analysed data on the consumption of antimicrobials in fattening pigs, broilers and cattle. Farmers and veterinarians from all over Germany participated in the study.

In the 'VetCAb' (Veterinary Consumption of Antibiotics) project, the scientists collected information for the year 2011 from over 2000 animal production sites documenting what types of antibiotics and how frequent were prescribed and/or administered to what types of animal species.

They studied the use of the medicines in broilers and in pig and cattle farming. Since the pharmaceuticals and/or amounts administered were recorded separately for different animal species, it is possible to estimate the average use of antibiotics per animal.

As part of the study, the scientists determined that in the course of its fattening period of roughly 115 days, a pig in Germany is treated with an antimicrobial agent on 4.2 days on average (median). The fattening period for broilers amounts to 39 days on average in Germany.

During this time, the animals are administered an antimicrobial agent on 10.1 days on average. In contrast, it has been calculated that only about every third calf is treated with an antibiotic for three days per year.

"Valid data on the consumption of antibiotics and the spread of resistance are of particular importance to risk assessment," said the President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Professor Andreas Hensel. "Through targeted measures, therapy with antibiotics must be limited to an absolute necessary minimum."

"The average values ascertained in VetCAb must be seen as the first orientation values for the antimicrobial treatment of production animals in Germany, and they will have to be assessed further and in more detail," added project leaders, Professor Lothar Kreienbrock from the Institute for Biometrics, Epidemiology and Information Processing of the University of Veterinary Medicine Foundation in Hannover and Professor Walther Honscha from the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Leipzig. "In future, further data must be collected in order to be able to determine whether these consumption levels are stable or whether downward trends can be observed," the authors of the study explain.

The data collected in the study are currently processed and evaluated in detail; the findings will be published soon. A follow-up study in the form of continued recording of antimicrobial use in livestock farming over a longer period of time is currently in preparation. The aim of this study will be to establish the future development of antibiotics use.

The findings are to be used, among other things, to assess the use of antibiotics in livestock farming in Germany – not least in the European context. In addition, the data provides indications on how and where the use of antimicrobials could be reduced further.

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