If farmers do not rein in the use of antibiotics for livestock, people will be severely affected
The spread of dangerous bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics is fuelled by overuse of the drugs — and not just in people. Farmers around the world routinely feed antibiotics to their animals, not only to prevent and treat infections, but also to make their animals grow faster. This leads to drug-resistant bacteria in the animals, and this resistance can spread to the bacteria that infect us.
The overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is a global issue. Human propensity for trade and travel ensures that resistant bacteria spread easily around the world, so as long as any one country pumps its pigs and poultry full of the drugs, everyone is at risk.
In 1998, the Danish poultry industry took the unusual step of volunteering to stop using antibiotics for the promotion of animal growth. Two years later, the country’s pork farmers did the same. Denmark might be a small country, but it is the world’s largest exporter of pork. And it didn’t stop there, writes Frank Aarestrup in a Comment piece on page 465, Denmark went on to reduce its overall use of antibiotics in livestock by 60%. It achieved this by creating a comprehensive surveillance system to monitor overuse, and limiting the amount of money that vets could make from selling the drugs to farmers.
Many feared that the changes would cripple Denmark’s pork production. Instead, production rose by 50%. “Any country trying to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock can learn from what my colleagues and I did in Denmark, adjusting what worked to local needs,” Aarestrup writes. These are encouraging words, but it is unlikely to be that simple.