Rabobank: Towards a Sustainable Minimum for Livestock Antibiotics
Although there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, Dutch farmers have shown that reducing antibiotics use in livestock farming is possible without negatively impacting overall economic and technical farm performance, according to Rabobank latest report ‘Breaking the habit: Antibiotic Reduction in Livestock Farming’. A sustainable minimum use of antibiotics balances management of antimicrobial resistance, productivity, animal welfare, and consumer interest.
This development counters the risk of antimicrobial resistance, which is a key driver for policy makers and industry players around the world to reduce the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics. “In mainstream animal protein production, a sustainable minimum for antibiotics usage is the carefully formulated answer to a complex equation of preventing antimicrobial resistance, maintaining efficiency in production, improving animal welfare, and satisfying consumer demand”, says Karen Heuvelmans, industry analyst Farm Inputs at Rabobank.
The sector substantially reduced its use of antibiotics, without negatively affecting its competitive position, in a globalised market. One of the key success factors in the Netherlands was setting up a government taskforce, together with the livestock sector, to determine appropriate goals and actions.
Antibiotic use in livestock farming is declining. Following warning signs of growing antimicrobial resistance (AMR), the risk of severe negative socioeconomic and public health consequences triggered stricter regulations. Several European countries banned the use of certain antibiotic growth promotors (AGPs) during the 1990s and the EU saw a complete ban on all AGP use by 2006. Today, several countries across the globe have legislation in place to curb farm antibiotic use.
In aiming for a reduction target, antibiotic use in the Dutch livestock sector decreased by 64% (2016). In recent years, this reduction was supported by a move towards slower growing chicken breeds in the broiler sector. Despite the reduction, the annual results of ‘conventional’ Dutch livestock farms show no negative impact on key farm performance indicators, e.g. financial results, animal health costs, feed efficiency, and mortality rates.
Then what is the sustainable minimum for antibiotics usage, to solve the actual problems at hand? In mainstream animal protein production, a sustainable minimum is the carefully formulated answer to a complex equation (see figure below).