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Belgium fights antibiotics

The use of antibiotics has only been commonplace for around 70 years. And although in the beginning, they seemed to be the miracle drug both for human health and livestock farming, we are now being confronted with the side effects of antibiotics: bacteria are becoming resistant, with consequences for our own health. High time to restrict the use of antibiotics. During the Belgian Meat Office Round Table, Prof. dr. Jeroen Dewulf of Ghent University explains the action plan and results of the Belgian livestock farming sector.

"Every use of antibiotics means we actively select on the basis of resistance. That collateral damage is always present,” emphasises Prof. dr. Jeroen Dewulf of Ghent University. A specialist in the area of veterinary epidemiology, Prof. dr. Dewulf charts the use of antibiotics in animals and he actively participates in the programmes to reduce the use of antibiotics in Belgian livestock farming to the sustainable level.

One world, one health

“We live in a world where people, pets, livestock farming and game together are one large entity. Our actions in livestock farming therefore also have an impact on our own health. And vice versa, people can also infect animals, consider for example, the MRSA bacteria”, illustrates Prof. dr. Dewulf. “Thanks to proper monitoring, however, there are hardly antibiotics to be found in the meat we eat. The doses we can still detect are furthermore so low, that they cannot cause resistance.”

“Each application of antibiotics has the side-effect of selecting resistant bacteria. It’s unavoidable. However, we can limit this collateral damage by using antibiotics very consciously. For example, the total amount of antibiotics administered naturally plays a decisive role. But the dose and treatment duration are also important factors. What’s more, we can limit the occurrence of resistance by choosing for narrow-spectrum antibiotics instead of broad-spectrum products. Finally, the method of administering is crucial. After all, individual treatment of animals is far more efficient than oral administration via feed or water.”

Successful action plan for reduction

Since 2011, the use of antibiotics in Belgian livestock farming has been closely monitored via the national report of BelVet-Sac, the Belgian Veterinary Surveillance of Antibacterial Consumption. In this way, the results of the efforts made are made visible and the use of antibiotics can be reduced faster. The type of antibiotics makes a major difference in the area of resistance. That is why the report looks in more depth at the types of antibiotics. This shows that the Belgian livestock farming sector is firmly committed to limiting broad-spectrum antibiotics.

AMCRA (the knowledge centre for the use of and resistance to antibiotics in animals) and Belpork (see p. 4-5) drew up concrete action plans, linked to ambitious targets to drastically reduce the use of antibiotics in Belgium by 2020. With result. AMCRA set three targets, that have already been achieved or which Belgium is well on the way to achieving.

Meat News autumn 2019 - 3 targets for the reduction of antibiotics.PNG

Avoiding is the best option

“At present, the use of antibiotics is still embedded in our livestock farming. That has to change, because livestock can be farmed without antibiotics. That is why we are focussing on the general health within companies, because no antibiotics are needed in companies with healthy animals. That’s good for animal welfare, good for the fight against antibiotic resistance and good for the producer who spends less money on medicines,” summarises Prof. dr. Dewulf.
“To achieve this, we do have to urge individual companies to take action. There is a great difference in the use of antibiotics by the various companies. Through individual reports, the companies can evaluate their own progress and benchmark against colleagues. Thanks to the reports, we can also detect the major consumers. This enables us to take more appropriate action and let the use of antibiotics further reduce sharply,” concludes Prof. dr. Dewulf.