Antimicrobial Resistance

Animal production

What is the problem?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major global threat of increasing concern. It can occur naturally as all microbes can adapt to their surrounding environment. However, it is exacerbated by inappropriate and excessive use of antimicrobials in both human healthcare and the agriculture sector.

Antimicrobials are used in terrestrial animal production practices to preserve animal and public health (e.g. to prevent and control zoonoses), but also as growth promoters at a sub-therapeutic level. 

The estimates of the total annual global consumption of antimicrobials in animal production vary considerably. This is due to poor surveillance and data collection in many countries, for example, only 42 countries in the world have a system to collect data on the use of antimicrobials in livestock.. The estimated worldwide antimicrobial consumption in the livestock sector in 2010 was 63 151 tonnes.

It cannot be ignored that two-thirds of the estimated future growth of usage of antimicrobials is estimated to be within the animal production sector, with use in pig and poultry production predicted to double. Other aspects to be considered with regard to antimicrobial use include the distinction between therapeutic and non-therapeutic use, between the diverse existing production systems and between specifics related to the different animal species and their eco-geographical location. Extensive and smallholder livestock production systems appear to use relatively small amounts of antimicrobials, and most of this is therapeutic use, i.e. for the treatment of infected or sick animals rather than for disease prevention or growth promotion.

In recent decades, the intensification of animal production due to the increasing demand for products of animal origin has led to an increasing overall use of antimicrobials. In addition, the amount of antimicrobials used also increases when specific diseases are being targeted or to prevent the spread of a particular disease, or in times of stress.

While the prudent use of antibiotics is important to treat animal diseases, its overuse and misuse can contribute to antimicrobial resistance. The availability of antimicrobial drugs for therapeutic use in terrestrial animals is essential for animal health, welfare and productivity and contributes to food security, food safety and public health – and so in turn to the protection of livelihoods. The growing resistance to antimicrobial drugs could reverse these benefits; animals’ resistance to antimicrobial drugs, makes treatments ineffective, increased severity of disease, reduces productivity and leads to economic losses.

In addition, unwanted antimicrobials residues may be present in products of animal origins, in animal waste contaminating soil and water and the environment in general, as between 75 to 90 percent of antimicrobials used in livestock are excreted, mostly unmetabolized. This further contributes to the emergence and spread of AMR through selection pressure upon pathogens.

Especially in food producing animals, AMR poses a serious threat to the safety and quality of feed and food, food security and livelihoods. Unhealthy and unproductive animals are no longer able to generate food products of acceptable safety and quality for human consumption and can no longer contribute to income generation. Hazardous feed and food and insufficient standards for residues in animal food products, reduces the livestock sectors potential of access to trade and increases public health risks.

Effectively addressing AMR requires the livestock sectors to join others in committing to implement practices to minimize the need for and use of antimicrobials.

Challenges and solutions?

The challenge is to reduce antimicrobial use in livestock production and maintaining animal health, welfare and productivity.

There is a wide choice of options for minimizing antimicrobial use, and FAO works to promote their implementation with a variety of stakeholders in the animal production sector. Some examples:

  • applying good husbandry practices while handling the animals, in the animal production establishments and during animal transport;
  • improving animal welfare (e.g. ensuring good air and water supply quality, appropriate ventilation rates and space allocation) during all phases including production, transport and slaughter.
  • using animals of locally adapted breeds which are more resistant to diseases and stress or animals bred for disease resistance (resistant animals will require a lower number of treatments with antimicrobials);
  • ensuring good hygiene, biosecurity measures, and general conditions on farms to prevent the need for any medicines in the first place. If animal production and transport environment and conditions are improved, for instance by reducing stock density and stress, or by increasing hygiene and by introducing disease control techniques, then the actual need for growth promoters may be removed or decreased;
  • applying  rigorous disease control measures (e.g. vaccination);
  • using feed ingredients/additives that enhance the efficiency of feed conversion to substitute antibiotics as growth promoters (e.g. in-feed enzymes, competitive exclusion products, probiotics, prebiotics, acidifiers, plant extracts, neutraceuticals, essential oils, yeast and many others);
  • avoiding feed ingredients with antinutritional properties (such as lectins, and protease inhibitors);
  • applying good practices for waste management; and
  • targeting primary production in specific value chains and highlighting practical actions that can be taken to reduce the need for antimicrobials and to control the dispersal of antimicrobials and resistant microbes in the environment.

FAO supports governments, producers and other actors along the animal production chain by:

  • producing, collecting and disseminating information on the use of antimicrobials;
  • raising awareness amongst all stakeholders and especially farmers and livestock industries on AMR
  • developing capacity to implement good practices to reduce the need for antimicrobials.

All this will be supported by some of FAO guidance documents (e.g. FAO Manual of Good Practices for the Meat Industry; FAO/IFIF Manual of Good Practices for the Feed; FAO Guide to Good Dairy Farming Practices; FAO Good Practices for Biosecurity in the Pig Sector; FAO resource package on Good Hygiene Practices).

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