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Why 'antibiotic free' could be a dangerous USP

11th Oct 2016 / By Alistair Driver

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies has warned that the concept of ‘antibiotic free’ meat could have dangerous unintended consequences if it was mishandled.

ZDIn her October column for Pig World, which can be read here, Zoe outlines some of the key findings from a recent international conference about global antibiotic use in livestock at the Hague, in Holland.

She wrote that all the 30 or so countries represented had some kind of a plan as to how they were going to deal with the issue of antibiotic resistance (AMR) in humans and livestock.

“Of course the myriad of antibiotic stewardship plans that we heard about are only any good if they are acted upon, and many have challenges to overcome,” Zoe wrote.

For example, in the US, of the 500,000 beef farmers, around half never see a vet but the FDA has brought many products under veterinary control so they need a prescription. They are faced with the distinct possibility they really don’t have enough vets to write all the scripts, Zoe said.

She added: “In addition, they are only banning ‘medically’ important drugs to human health for use as growth promoters, which bizarrely at the moment don’t include colistin, while many others will continue to be used. Still, at least they won’t be able to purchase medicated feed from the local farm stores anymore!”

China, with 52 million sows, has a big task ahead to reduce the estimated 80,000 tonnes of antibiotics used.

“They have however committed in their action plan to strengthen the supervision of antibiotics, ban the use of critically important drugs and, as of March, have banned colistin as a growth promoter,” Zoe wrote.

Antibiotic free

The hotly debated topic of branding meat as ‘antibiotic free’ also came up at the conference.

One presentation showed that in the US, 780 million more birds would be needed to manage the demand for antibiotic free chicken as the current mortality rate was around 50 per cent higher than conventional.

She added: “Those birds would need to eat 6mt of feed and 3bn litres more water – so not a great environmental footprint! Mention was made of people euthanasing stock rather than treating them which of course would not be acceptable for large herds/flocks.

“The general consensus was that this USP being used by food service and retailers was dangerous and needed spelling out to them.

“Needless to say we’ve already started in the UK – fine for smaller contracts where people can manage with a good premium but certainly not something we would encourage as the accepted norm for retail!”