EU and national policies are not ambitious enough to meet the bloc’s target of halving antibiotic use in livestock farming by 2030, say campaigners, who warn that without enough action, humans will also be at risk of antimicrobial resistance.
The excessive use of antibiotics in recent years – not only in humans but also in animal health – has led some bacteria to develop resistance to antimicrobials (AMR), i.e. to antibiotics . become less effective against infections.
The global COVID-19 pandemic “has shown again that the gradual development of antimicrobial resistance is an immense risk,” said Sascha Müller-Kränner, director of the NGO Environmental Action Germany, at a recent event.
The European Commission has already identified the fight against AMR as a priority. In its flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork Strategy, it has set itself the target of halving sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals in the EU by 2030.
It’s “a good goal, an ambitious goal – reaching it would be our wish,” said Reinhild Benning, agriculture and food campaigner at Environmental Action Germany.
“But it’s not that easy,” he continued.
Recent studies, Benning warned, predict an almost 7% increase in antibiotic use in Europe by 2030, due to increased use in animal husbandry.
A list too apathetic?
As an instrument to reduce antimicrobial resistance in animals, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recently presented a list of antimicrobials that should be reserved for human use only.
The Commission shed his weight behind the agency’s recommendations.
While welcoming the step of developing such a list, Benning said the EMA’s recommendations did not go far enough.
“In this list, I miss a human medicine angle and an environmental medicine angle,” she said, adding that the list was not compiled with a so-called “One Health” approach. i.e. the idea of tackling human problems. , animal and environmental in an integrated way.
Echo criticism from MEPsBenning called for expanding the list of antimicrobials to include those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) but not listed by the EMA.
However, not everyone shares the activists’ view. “We believe there is a high level of ambition in EU policy actions to reduce the use of antibiotics in farming,” said Roxane Feller, Secretary General of AnimalhealthEurope, an organization representing the animal medicine industry, at EURACTIV.
She pointed out that a recent report by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) had already found an overall decline in veterinary antibiotic sales of 42% in veterinary antibiotic sales between 2011 and 2020.
Feller also added that his organization would “accept the scientific advice of the EMA” regarding antibiotics for human use only, adding that it was “in line with the EU’s One Health approach to addressing the challenge of antimicrobial resistance”.
Reduce the need to use
In the meantime, the question remains how and to what extent animal husbandry can reduce the use of antimicrobials and to what extent they are essential for animal health.
“To work completely without antibiotic treatment – it is important to emphasize this – is not possible,” German Agriculture Ministry official Marcus Schick said at an event.
In the case of “bacterial infections that cause pain, suffering and harm to animals”, they must be treated, he argued, adding that such diseases could also threaten human health through food products. products from animals.
“We prefer to focus on reducing the need to use antibiotics rather than just watching reduce useFeller explained. At the same time, as there are currently no alternatives to treat bacterial infections, antibiotics “will remain essential (…) to protect the health and welfare of animals”, she added. .
Benning, meanwhile, called for a more structural approach, saying that a third of the global increase in antibiotic use was due to a shift from peasant farming to industrial agriculture, where “the antibiotics are often treated as a production input”.
To effectively reduce antimicrobial use, therefore, the agricultural system must change, she concluded.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]