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Sharp Rise in Livestock Antimicrobial Use Expected

Cattle (ARS)

(Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

26 March 2015. An international research consortium estimates that global use of antibiotics in livestock is expected to jump by two-thirds by the year 2030, imperiling attempts to overcome antibiotic resistance and posing a threat to public health. The team led by Princeton University environmental researcher Ramanan Laxminarayan published its findings last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (paid subscription required).

Laxminarayan — with colleagues from research institutes in Europe, Kenya, India, and the U.S. — sought to develop a technique for measuring worldwide consumption of antibiotics by livestock, which is becoming an increasing concern as global demand for animal protein increases. Antibiotics provide ranchers with better animal health and growth, as well as fewer foodborne pathogens. But more antibiotics fed to livestock also contribute to increased occurrence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

A report last year from World Health Organization highlighted the need to reduce inappropriate use of antibiotics in livestock production and noted …

More data are needed on antibiotic consumption in food-producing animals worldwide, and on the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance in different countries and different production systems, in order to make comparisons between countries and identify priority areas for intervention.

The researchers developed statistical techniques known as Bayesian models using methods that allow for projections based on limited data at hand combined with previous quantitative knowledge. Their models incorporated economic projections for demand of meat products and maps of livestock densities, with estimates of consumption based on sales of veterinary antimicrobials in 32 mainly developed countries. In the U.S. for example,  say the researchers, antibiotic consumption in animals represents as much as 80 percent of total antimicrobial sales.

Laxminarayan and colleagues estimate total worldwide consumption of antimicrobials for livestock will increase from about 63,200 tons in 2010 to 105,600 tons in 2030, a jump of 67 percent. Gains in antibiotic use among livestock are expected to be larger in BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — where rates are projected to rise by 99 percent, nearly doubling in that 20 year period.

Many of the increases are attributed to changes in livestock production to large-scale intensive practices where antimicrobials are routinely used in sub-therapeutic doses. This trend to more intensive production practices is expected to account for up to one-third of antimicrobials consumed between 2010 and 2030. The remaining two-thirds of total global consumption is expected to result from the larger number of animals raised for food.

The researchers point out policy makers need to make difficult choices in confronting this problem, calling for initiatives to preserve antibiotic effectiveness, while still ensuring food security in low- and middle-income countries. Nonetheless says Laxminarayan in a Princeton University statement, “Antibiotic resistance is a dangerous and growing global public health threat that isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.”

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