GLOBAL – Antimicrobial usage is falling in Europe but bacterial resistance to antibiotics is increasing at an alarming rate, writes Michael Priestley.
Sales data show less antimicrobials are being bought across Europe, while individual countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands and the UK can illustrate a decline in usage.
However, the increase in antibiotic resistance over recent years now poses a “serious risk” to public health, said the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe this week.
In a press release as part of Antibiotic Awareness Week, it emphasised the “crucial role” of vets as primary prescribers.
A European Union report last month showed a 15 per cent reduction in antimicrobials sold last year.
Within the UK, a Veterinary Medicines Directorate report showed a four milligram drop in usage per livestock unit.
Citing last month’s European Medicines Agency report, John FitzGerald of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance said it was good that usage was falling but that much more was yet to be done.
He stressed key changes are required, both at the top legislative level and to the broad mind-set of people within the industry.
Calling for further improvements, he said: “More needs to be done to get all farmers and vets using antimicrobials responsibly and to ensure proper control on their supply in all member states.”
Two breakthroughs, the UK’s five year antimicrobial resistance strategy and published legislative proposals from the European Commission, represent progress over the last year.
Mr FitzGerald added that the EU legislation was, in part, to tackle the resistance issue.
Awareness of antimicrobial resistance and the change needed at farm and public health level is growing, with a notable announcement from the US earlier this year.
Back in February, the US Food and Drug Administration issued guidelines entering farmers into a new era of voluntary standards to tackle antimicrobial usage.
Use of antimicrobials for “production purposes”, such as growth promotion, and “over the counter” buying of drugs is intended to be phased out through the regime.
Drugs classed as “medically important” have been put under veterinary prescription.
To the north, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association saddled the issue on the veterinary professions under the slogan, “our role, our responsibility” last month.
India also got on board with the trend to outlaw the routine feeding of antimicrobials this summer.
State governments received directions to stop premixing feed with antibiotics in June.
More recently still, the Australian Veterinary Association said it was “pleased” to see many agricultural industries changing management practices to reduce antibiotic use last week.
However, it sent a strong message to Australian vets and farmers calling for “careful use” of antibiotics, using “superbugs” as a future warning.
Meanwhile, Dutch progress on antimicrobials has been great, an animal health official said at Viv Europe in May.
Speaking in anticipation of national results, Dr Hetty Van Beers said Dutch reports are showing a 50 to 60 per cent reduction in antibiotic usage in 2013 compared with 2007.
Similar success is seen in Germany, where, like the Netherlands, there is an awareness of the dangers of overuse and under-use.
A German Farmers’ Association spokesperson said: “We must be clear that suffering animals need effective drug treatment. This is why a general waiver of antibiotics is not possible.”
Last month, the Netherlands played host to the third International Conference on Responsible Use of Antibiotics in Amsterdam.
At the conference, the International Federation for Animal Health (IFAH) reinforced the message of needing to use antibiotics responsibly.