Reducing antibiotic usage in animals won’t necessarily reduce resistance levels in humans and countries should not be trying to outdo each other in setting reduction goals, according to President of the German Federal Association of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (bpt).

Dr. Hans-Joachim Götz, who was speaking at Eurotier – a European trade fair for animal production – this week, said that while research continues into whether and how resistant bacteria can be passed between humans and animals, the decisive criterion for the public and politicians is the quantity of antibiotics needed to select resistant bacteria.

He said that reducing antibiotics won’t in itself resolve the issue of antimicrobial resistance. “The most important factors, present in equal measure in both human and veterinary medicine, are poor hygiene in hospitals and animal housing, treatment courses for human patients or animals which are either abandoned too early or where the prescribed doses of antibiotics are too low, and the use of an ineffective antibiotic because the bacterium has not been definitively identified. Consequently, reducing antibiotic use will not, of itself, solve the problem despite the constant emphasis placed on this by politicians and the media.”

However, at both national and EU level, there must under no circumstances be a competition to outdo each other in setting ambitious antibiotic reduction goals, he said. “Specialist expertise must be at the heart of any decisions about the sustained reduction in antibiotic use. Animal health must be maintained or improved. This essentially requires all therapy options to be retained, including the use of an alternative medication or the use of reserve antibiotics. Only the results produced by an effective monitoring system will allow the use of antibiotics to be minimised without impacting animal welfare standards. This could be reinforced and made permanent by legislation requiring mandatory veterinary monitoring of productive livestock farmers.”

Germany will place antibiotic resistance at the centre of its G7 presidency next year, he said and if the German Federal Association of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (bpt) were to have its way, veterinary surgeons and doctors would together, as part of the EU Commission’s Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) action plan and of the German Antibiotics Resistance Strategy (DART), commit themselves to using antibiotics only in accordance with the guidelines and under controlled conditions, and would develop effective solutions to be communicated to veterinary surgeons and doctors via the relevant channels, so as to enlist their support for the degree of care, attention and responsibility required.

Equally, the aim of 21st century animal health policy must be to avoid disease by means of preventive action such as inoculation and hygiene measures and by better farm management and improving the conditions in which animals are kept. Antibiotics, especially reserve antibiotics, should however only be employed after considering their therapeutic efficacy and taking the possible selection of antimicrobial resistance into account.