Policies and regulations are aimed at limiting the use of antibiotics, and antibiotic residue that is ingested by livestock consumers all over the world. In addition, policies and regulations are intended to reduce antibiotic use with the aim of significantly reducing evolution and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in livestock, and then in humans. In certain regions, such as the European Union (EU), the authorities have taken critical steps that are aimed at banning the use of antibiotics for the promotion of livestock growth (CSE). Apart from the laws introduced by different countries, Codex Alimentarius, developed by the WHO and FAO, specifies certain recommendations that are aimed at achieving safety of the animal product consumers at international levels. Maximum Residue Limits for Veterinary Drugs in Food, which was updated in 2015, recommends optimal limits for antibiotic use in livestock husbandry. The recommendations, among others, include detailed requirements for maximum residue limits in specific animal tissues, all of which are designed to assist countries in adopting national recommendations for maximum residue limits (Codex Alimentarius Commission). Although these regulations are largely practiced in Europe, certain countries, such as India, have adopted the same for implementation in the use of antibiotics (CDDEP).

Current Policies and Regulations for Antibiotic Use in Animal Husbandry

The World Organization for Animal Health developed three main texts to deal with antibiotic resistance in animal husbandry. These texts include: the Aquatic Animal Health Code, the Terrestrial Animal Health Code, and the Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals (CDDEP). The development of these texts was intended to enhance surveillance systems for use and resistance and promote rationalized use of antibiotics.

Despite the intention to introduce a ban on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, especially in the developing countries, the laws are met with opposition in certain country contexts due to perceived negative economic impacts of the ban. The recent assessments conducted by Laxminarayan, VanBoeckel and Teillant suggested that the impact of the ban would be minimal in countries where animal husbandry systems are already optimized, while the impacts would remain significant in countries with non-optimized animal husbandry systems. In most developing countries, the projected production losses due to the ban on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry are approximated at about 3% to 5% of the annual meat production (CSE).

The EU banned the active use of antibiotic growth promoters since 2006. For instance, the European ban on antibiotic growth promoters such as erythromycin, virginiamycin, vancomycin and avilamycin significantly decreased antibiotic resistance levels, suggesting the desired effect that ban on the use of antibiotics has had not only within the EU regions, but in extended regions where the EU animal products are consumed. Following the ban of virginiamycin, for instance, its resistance decreased by one-third between 1998 and 2000 (Aarestrup). In the United Kingdom, the levels of S. typhimurium isolates from calf resistance to tetracycline dropped from 60% to 8% seven years after the ban on tetracycline use as growth promoters (CDDEP).

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In 2011, the EU introduced a five-year framework to help in fighting antimicrobial resistance within the EU members’ states and beyond. The framework included recommendations to restrict the use of antibiotics in veterinary, both newly introduced antibiotics, and antibiotics that are regarded to be critically important for humans. Other the EU recommendations currently focus on the promotion of the effective use of antibiotics in animal husbandry and strengthening of the regulations on the use of veterinary medicines. Moreover, the EU current regulations suggest new animal health laws that pertain to good farming practices to eliminate infections and to reduce the use of antibiotics in aquaculture as implemented in 2011 (European Commission). The objective of the current regulations is to control and prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance in the agricultural sector and in humans. Today, the EU collects data on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry and resistance through organizations such as the European Food Safety Authority, the European Medicine’s Agency’s European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption, and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Further, regular audits on the implementation of relevant legislation are conducted by Food and Veterinary Office.

As in Europe, the United States have policies and regulations that govern the use of antimicrobial to promote growth in animal husbandry in the country, with adoption in other countries. Since the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration department has imposed limits on the use of antibiotics in growth promotion (FDA). In attempt to update the U.S. policies and regulations on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal husbandry, the FDA passed voluntary guiding framework for the agricultural sector in 2014 (FDA). The guiding framework was intended for pharmaceutical firms that sell veterinary antibiotics to farmers, with the recommendation that such firms should voluntarily increase oversight of the veterinary antibiotics. The recommendations, among others, recommend changing drug indications to require prescriptions, and changing labels on the drug containers, so that their use for growth promotion can be prohibited. FDA has given pharmaceutical firms up to 2018 to comply with these guiding framework (FDA).

FDA further disallows extra-label use of certain types of antibiotics in food-producing animals. Extra-label utilization in animal husbandry includes using of drugs at unapproved dosage stages for disease prevention or as growth promoters. There is the similarly wrong use of drugs, such as the use of drugs meant for one species, to promote growth or prevent disease in another specie; such is the case of the use of cephalosporin meant for humans or chicken. FDA has completely prohibited the use of chloramphenicol for any reason in animal husbandry. Below are some antibiotics whose use are prohibited in animal husbandry in the US and EU, and other developing countries that have adopted the EU and US regulations on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry (FDA).

Policy Recommendations

The use of antibiotics in animal husbandry for any reason results in declining antibiotic effectiveness against infections in the livestock and, eventually, in humans (CDDEP). Certain antimicrobial uses in animals, such as for the treatment of bacterial infections, may be unavoidable in animal husbandry, and are, therefore, appropriate if used controllably. However, increased use of antibiotics for prophylactic purposes and as growth promoters are avoidable and unnecessary. Consequently, this paper provides recommendations that seek to promote reduced use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, especially as growth promoters. To conserve effectiveness of antibiotics in livestock and humans, this discussion recommends four actions as discussed in the subsequent sections. 1. There is a need to track rates of antibiotic use in animal husbandry, rates of resistances, and levels of residues in animals through a reliable nationwide monitoring system and surveillance.

In most developing countries, little is done to track veterinary antibiotic use, levels of antibiotic residues in livestock, and rates of resistance to antibiotics in livestock (Dutta, Roychoudhury, & Banik). To close this significant gap, there is a need to introduce surveillance system and collect both quantitative and qualitative data to determine patterns of the use and resistance to antibiotics over time in given contexts. Implementing of such a system can be overseen by professionals who are knowledgeable in veterinary drug resistances, including veterinary scientists, surveillance experts, and representatives from the relevant ministries. Preparations for the implementation processes may include determination of the implementation partners, and the antibiotics that would constitute surveillance. Partners can be agricultural research institutes and universities in the respective countries.

2. The change of incentives will discourage farmers from unnecessarily using antibiotics in animal husbandry.

All countries that seek to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics in animal husbandry should develop incentives that are aimed at reducing antibiotic use in animal husbandry, without jeopardizing human and animal health. Identification of such incentives may warrant randomized intervention trials and offer further insights into the relevant incentives. For instance, trials can be initiated to explore the impacts of subsidizing microbiological tests for infection in livestock. Other incentives can include issuing of certificates for farmers with antibiotic-free animal products that are sold for human consumption. Through the research, relevant stakeholders and departments can implement alternative methods for disease control and growth promotion in livestock rearing.

3. There is a growing need to educate veterinarians, farmers, and livestock product consumers on the dangers of antibiotic resistance and use in animal husbandry.

Globally, there is significant unawareness on the dangers of antibiotic resistance in humans and livestock (Dutta). Such unawareness is particularly conspicuous among small-scale farmers in developing countries, who rely on antibiotics to promote the growth of poultry, beef and dairy to a limited extent (CDDEP). Raising awareness and educating the public, farmers and veterinarians on the use and dangers of antibiotic use can play a significant role in reduction of the same. A well-organized and consistent national and international strategies can ensure that all segments are covered with the relevant messages on the dangers of antibiotic use in animal husbandry and consumption in animal products. In developing countries, for instance, farmers can be targeted during fairs, and, in market days, through extension education. The extension education should be conducted by knowledgeable entities, such as veterinary institutions, and agricultural institutions, through popularly accessed media methods such as television, radio, and print campaigns. Educating veterinarians require modification of the curriculum to include the use of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance in their course contents. Raising public awareness should seek to amplify the presence of antibiotics residues in growth promoted livestock and the dangers such products pose in antibiotics resistance in humans. Public awareness of the dangers of antibiotics in growth promoted livestock can be conducted through social and regular media.

4. Implementation of policies and regulations that seek to phase out the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal husbandry is the last policy recommendation.

Enacting policies and regulations (where such has not been done) to eliminate the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal husbandry has the potential to significantly reduce antibiotic use and resistance in humans and livestock. However, such elimination should be conducted gradually, under monitoring and evaluation, to ensure non-occurrence of unintended consequences on livestock health. The approach to phase out the use of antibiotics can vary between one livestock to the other, based on the administering of sub-therapeutic antibiotics. In addition, such a process may require monitoring and evaluation of the total amount of antibiotics used, against the total production costs. In brief, adopting alternative growth promotion products to antibiotics, in addition to other incentives recommended earlier, can encourage gradual phase-out of antibiotic uses in non-therapeutic needs while enhancing continued animal health.

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