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Limiting AGP use in food animals

| Updated: October 25, 2017 05:28:58

Limiting AGP use in food animals

Antibiotic use in animal and poultry feeds has been there since the middle of the last century. These are used at sub-therapeutic levels to promote growth of food animals. However, judicial use of antibiotics in food animals for growth promotion and disease prevention has been controversial for a long time due to antibiotic resistance growing in animals and humans resulting in treatment failure when needed. This problem is intensifying day by day due to the misuse of antibiotics in animal and poultry feeds. Evidence shows that antibiotic-resistant genes can be transmitted from an animal to a human microbiota. As a result, every year there is a huge economic loss due to the medical cost of antibiotics that are less effective in human health. Very recently, a report from the European Union (EU) indicated that about twenty five thousand patients died each year from infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria, which is equivalent to €1.5 billion of hospital costs. This report indicates the seriousness of the problem throughout the globe. On the other hand, about 90 per cent of antibiotics given to livestock are excreted into the environment and may be a source of pollution. It is documented that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can transmit directly and indirectly through the food chains, air, water and soil. In addition, some antibiotic drugs have carcinogenicity and genotoxicity effects on human health. As consequences of public health safety concerns, several countries have banned or restricted the use of human health-related antibiotics in food animal production.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that the use of antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) that are used in humans be terminated or rapidly phased out by legislation, unless and until risk assessments are carried out. They also suggested that animal health management should be routinely practised to avoid the prophylactic use of antimicrobials. The antimicrobial availability should be limited for therapeutic use by veterinary prescription. In 1997, the EU banned the use of avoparcin in feeds which was replaced by the complete ban on all AGPs in animal feed in January, 2006.  But, a few groups of people heavily criticised the total ban on AGP use in farm animals and argued that such a ban follows "precautionary principles" rather than scientific facts. However, the movement in regards to restriction of AGP use in farm animals appears to be inevitable.

The antimicrobial use is restricted in countries including those as follows:  

European Union: A restriction on antimicrobial use began in 1997 when the EU banned use of avoparcin for growth promotion in food animals. In 1999 they also banned the use of tylosin, spiramycin, bacitracin, virginiamycin, carbadox and olaquindox for growth promotion. Finally the inclusion of antibiotics in the diets of animal has been prohibited by the EU countries since January 2006. Although the EU requires veterinary prescriptions to use antimicrobials in food animals, it allows member states to grant exemptions in certain cases.

The Netherlands: The Netherlands banned the antimicrobials olaquindox and carbadox in 1997, due to the effect of carcinogenicity and genotoxicity of these drugs in humans. In 1999 the country began monitoring antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in food and animal pathogens. For this monitoring, total sale of antibiotics licensed for therapeutic use in the Netherlands declined by 32 per cent between 2009 and 2011. However, veterinary prescriptions are required to use antimicrobials in food animals in the Netherlands.

Germany: In 1996 avoparcin antimicrobials were banned in Germany. They only allowed antibiotics to be used for the treatment of diseased animals, not for growth promotion. But veterinary prescriptions are required to administer antimicrobials in food animals.  In 2008, Germany implemented national antibiotic resistance strategy that includes AMR monitoring, improved data-sharing on resistance issues, and reducing antibiotic use through good environmental prevention of infectious diseases. In 2011, Germany announced additional measures to control antimicrobial use in food animal production through monitoring of the quantities of antibiotics prescribed by veterinarians and the quantities actually consumed by food animals. They also collected data on pharmaceutical use by the poultry industry to calculate the pharmaceutical use of antimicrobials by the individual animals. In 2013, the lower house of the German parliament passed a bill to require livestock producers to report regularly antibiotic use to German state governments. By this bill, the federal government would develop average use of antibiotics by the producer. Furthermore, the producers who use antibiotics in excess of these averages would have their own policies reviewed by a veterinary authority, which would be empowered to guide the producer to adopt alternatives to antibiotic use.

Sweden: Sweden was the first country in the world to ban AGPs in food animal production. A full ban of the use of AGPs in animal feed came into effect in Sweden from 1986 without a veterinary prescription. The impact of this ban was not uniform across the animal species and the ban did not lead to negative clinical or economic impact on egg production of laying hens. In broiler chickens, the industry did not face any problem and the total production was doubled in the last 12 years following the ban on AGPs. In turkeys, antimicrobials were used only to prevent necrotic enteritis and the ban of AGPs did not result in any negative clinical effects on turkey production, although the therapeutic use of antimicrobials was lowered to control the outbreak of necrotic enteritis after the ban on AGP use in broiler chickens.

Bangladesh: In October 2010 the government of Bangladesh imposed a complete ban on AGPs in animal feed through the Fish and Animal Feed Act-2010. Later the government also framed the Animal Feed Rules-2013 to ensure the quality of animal feeds and produce safe foods for consumers.

Some countries including those as follows allowed limited antimicrobial use:

The United States of America: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an order to prohibit the use of certain antimicrobial drugs in food animals effective from April 5, 2012. According to this order, they prohibited the use of cephalosporin class of antimicrobial drugs in cattle, swine, chickens and turkeys to reduce the risk of cephalosporin resistance in certain bacterial pathogens in humans. In addition, the FDA adopted the Foods and Veterinary Medicine Programme Strategic Plan for 2012-2016 to monitor the emergence of antimicrobial resistance and decrease the use of antimicrobial drugs where possible. Therefore, it is clear that the practice of using AGPs in general is under scrutiny in the US and that consumer pressure is affecting the industry to remove AGPs from animal feeds. Recently, McDonald's Corporation and Kentucky Fried Chicken in the US reported that they were not accepting AGP-fed chickens.

Canada: Canada relies on voluntary actions to reduce the use of AGP for growth promotion of animals. However, veterinary prescriptions are required for using antimicrobials which also varies in different provinces. In addition, Canada reported that the country does not have separate regulations for using antimicrobials in food animals for disease prevention and control.

Japan: Japan does not have any restrictions on using antimicrobials for growth promotion, but their Food Safety Commission is considering restriction on the use of some antibiotics. However, a veterinary prescription is required for antimicrobial use in food animals. Japan does not have any regulations pertaining specifically to antimicrobial use for the purposes of disease control and prevention.

China: China does not have any restrictions on AGPs and does not require veterinary prescriptions for using antibiotics in food animals. However, China established National Antibacterial Resistance Investigation Net (NARIN) for monitoring the use of AGPs in food animals. In 2007, NARIN estimated that almost a half of the antibiotics produced in China were used in food animals through animal feeds.

India: In 2011 the Indian government proposed a "national policy for containment of antimicrobial resistance". Other policies were set requiring the food producing animals not to be given antibiotics for a certain period of time before their food goes into the market.

Some other countries have limited requirements to obtain veterinary prescriptions for using antibiotics in food animals.  Among these countries, Australia, Brazil and Ukraine do not have any formal national restrictions on antimicrobial use for the purpose of growth promotion. A recent survey of 128 countries sponsored by Alltech, USA reviewed the growing restrictions on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. This survey focused on the 59 countries where restrictions exist or are likely to be implemented, including 28 from the EU and the top seven countries in terms of livestock production.

It concludes that the global restrictions on AGP use in poultry feeds vary from country to country based on the growing global curbs in consideration of food safety and consumer demand. Therefore, more research is required to find cost-effective alternatives. However, a strong monitoring, supervision and quality control system is required to be there at the industry and market levels and also at different desks between the field and the market to ensure AGP-free diets in Bangladesh. Moreover, upgradation and diversification of value-added poultry products and expansion of their market are required to be explored complying with biosecurity and food safety measures.

Hossan Md. Salim, PhD is Upazila Livestock Officer (L/R), the Livestock Economics Section, Department of Livestock Services, Krishikhamar Sarak, Dhaka.

Email: [email protected]

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