According to a cross-European study, Italy is the country that has done most to reduce the use of antimicrobials, but is still third in the overall table.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recently published its Fifth Report on “Sales of veterinary antimicrobial agents in 26 EU/EEA countries in 2013”, considering 95% of the food-producing animal population. The report was drawn up in the ambit of “The European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption” (ESVAC) project, launched in 2010 to collect data on the use of veterinary antimicrobials on livestock farms in the European Union, essential for identifying the possible risk factors that could lead to the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance in animals.
The latest report presents data on 2013 sales and includes a chapter describing changes in consumption of veterinary antimicrobials in the years 2010-2013. The comforting news is that for the period 2011 to 2013 a decrease in sales was recorded of 8%. This trend is not general however: in 11 countries a decrease of more than 5% was recorded, while in six of them—including Cyprus, which in the period taken into consideration rose from 408 to 426 mg/PCU, and Spain, which rose from 241 to 317 mg/PCU—an increase of more than 5% was recorded.
Calculating total sales of veterinary antimicrobial agents in relation to the estimated weight of livestock and slaughtered animals (mg/PCU), the table is headed by Cyprus followed by Spain and Italy. More specifically, albeit occupying a very high position in the table, which gives some idea of the amounts of such agents still being used, Italy stands out as the country in which the highest decrease (the equivalent of -29%) was observed in the period 2010 to 2013, dropping from 427 to 302 mg/PCU. This decrease in sales is the result of constant information and training activity on the rational and prudent use of veterinary antimicrobials since 2009. In addition, the Ministry of Health has launched awareness campaigns against the prophylactic use of antimicrobial agents in breeding farms. In general, the justifications put forward by the countries considered to explain the decrease are “the implementation of responsible use campaigns, changes in animal demographics, restrictions on use, increased awareness of the threat of antimicrobial resistance and/or the setting of targets.”
On intensive livestock farms antimicrobials are given to animals to prevent diseases that are particularly frequent due to cramped conditions. But in the course of time bacteria develop resistances which antimicrobials are no longer able to suppress. Resistant bacteria may pass from animals to human beings in many ways: for example, when animals are slaughtered and processed in abattoirs, bacteria may colonize the meat. Bacteria are also abundant in the manure used to fertilize fields, where they penetrate the soil, contaminating lakes and rivers.
It is thus necessary to monitor and reduce the use of antimicrobials in animal husbandry. For example, as the World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed out, if we continue to use antimicrobials excessively and irresponsibly in animal husbandry, we risk entering a post-antimicrobial era in which pathologies that are now easy to treat will become lethal once more.
The obvious consequence is the need to promote sustainable forms of livestock farming, taking more care over the space allotted to each animal and to animal feed which should consist as far as possible of integrated fresh forage, where necessary with hay, cereals and legumes produced as locally as possible. The practice of agro-ecological livestock farming involves a drastic reduction in the use of antimicrobials and privileges phytotherapeutic remedies and homeopathic cures: antimicrobials and common veterinary medicines are only used in the event of pathologies and if no other effective remedies exist.
According to Sergio Capaldo, a vet and founder of the La Granda livestock breeders’ association in the province of Cuneo, “It’s fundamental to respect equilibria; between space and environment and food, between healthy environment, healthy animal husbandry and healthy agriculture. If we manage domestication well, overseeing the number of animal populations, controlling their feed in particular, we’ll be able to do without antimicrobials and supplements. And we’ll also learn the value of natural feed and, as a consequence, of agriculture. An animal that has eaten forage grown in a clean, sustainable manner will live better and produce meat of much higher quality.”
di Silvia Ceriani