Part 2: Five more myth-busting facts about antibiotics and animals

Agriland recently shared part one in a two-part myth-busting series about antibiotics and animals from the European Platform for the Responsible Using of Medicines in Animals (EPRUMA).

Here, we present part two in the series.

  • Myth 1 – Intensive farming favours the development of antimicrobial resistance
  • Fact – The main driver for resistance development is the level of use/misuse of antibiotics, which is not necessarily linked to farm scale or system. Resistant bacteria are found on intensive and organic farms alike, since animals become sick at some time in all production systems, and so are treated with veterinary antibiotics whenever this is deemed necessary by a veterinarian (Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008 and Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007).

  • Myth 2 – Antibiotics are excessively used in animals by non-competent persons
  • Fact – Regulation 2019/6 indicates that antibiotics in animals are used only following the examination, diagnosis and prescription by a vet. Vets are highly educated to evaluate the health condition of animals under their care, to diagnose and to prescribe the necessary treatment in the same way that doctors do for people. They are additionally well-aware of the mechanisms leading to the development of antibiotic resistance and the risks for animals and people in the same way that doctors are for people. Enforcing veterinary supervision and care through the implementation of regular veterinary visits as foreseen by the Regulation (EU) 2016/429 can have a major impact on promotion and implementation of best practices, which leads to better health of animals and minimise the need to use antibiotics.

  • Myth 3 – Preventive treatment is used on EU farms to compensate for poor hygiene and husbandry
  • Fact – Animals, like humans, can become sick even when kept under the best conditions. Animals are recognised as sentient beings and have to be treated by a vet when sick. Applying preventive biosecurity measures is also crucial in ensuring overall health of animals. Regulation 2019/6 bans the preventive (prophylactic) use of antibiotics in groups of animals. Preventive treatment with antibiotics in animals is only permitted for individual animals and in exceptional cases for a small number of animals, when the risk of an infection is very high and the consequences are likely to be severe.

  • The use of antibiotics in animals is only allowed on veterinary prescription and the use of veterinary medicines ‘to compensate for poor hygiene, inadequate animal husbandry or lack of care or to compensate for poor farm management’ is expressly banned as per Regulation 2019/6.

  • Myth 4 – Treatment of animals as a group is not necessary in farming practices in the EU
  • Fact – Treatment of groups of animals through their drinking water/feed can be the safest and most effective treatment method. Regulation 2019/4 on medicated feed introduces strict rules for the use of oral medication, via feed or water. Getting control of individual animals and injecting them can be very stressful to the animal, especially if a course of treatment involving daily dosage is needed. Hence, this makes individual treatment stressful and impractical. It should be up to the vet to decide the optimum way to administer medication, which remains under veterinary control and prescription.

  • Myth 5 – We have to set a target for zero use of antibiotics in animals
  • Fact – The target should be the reduction of antibiotic resistance and not the zero use of antibiotics in animals or in people. Antibiotics must be available when needed and be used prudently and responsible in both animals and humans, following a diagnosis and a prescription by a veterinarian (in animals) or a doctor (in humans), who need these tools to control infections and stop the spread of disease.