Germany collects data on antibiotic use in livestock

Published on: Aug 14, 2013

Germany — and neighbouring European countries — systematically collected data on the volume of antibiotics used in livestock farming, according to a joint announcement from Germany's Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the University of Veterinary Medicine Foundation Hannover and the University of Leipzig.

The use of antibiotics in livestock farming is controversial, because it can lead to resistance in bacteria, the announcement said. In a scientific study sponsored by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the University of Veterinary Medicine Foundation Hanover and the University of Leipzig collected and analysed data on the consumption of antimicrobials in growing/finishing pigs, broilers and cattle. Farmers and veterinarians from all over Germany participated in the study.

In the "VetCAb" (Veterinary Consumption of Antibiotics) project, the scientists collected information for the year 2011 from more than 2,000 animal production sites documenting what types of antibiotics and how frequent they were prescribed and/or administered to what types of animal species. Since the pharmaceuticals and/or amounts administered were recorded separately for different animal species, it was possible to estimate the average use of antibiotics per animal, the announcement said.

As part of the study, the scientists determined that in the course of its finishing period of roughly 115 days, a pig in Germany is treated with an antimicrobial agent on 4.2 days on average (median). The finishing period for broilers amounts to 39 days on average in Germany. During this time, the animals are administered an antimicrobial agent on 10.1 days on average. In contrast, it has been calculated that only about every third calf is treated with an antibiotic for three days per year.

"Valid data on the consumption of antibiotics and the spread of resistance are of particular importance to risk assessment," Dr. Andreas Hensel, president of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, said. "Through targeted measures, therapy with antibiotics must be limited to an absolute necessary minimum."

“The average values ascertained in VetCAb must be seen as the first orientation values for the antimicrobial treatment of production animals in Germany, and they will have to be assessed further and in more detail," added project leaders Dr. Lothar Kreienbrock from the University of Veterinary Medicine Foundation Hannover and Dr. Walther Honscha from the University of Leipzig. "In future, further data must be collected in order to be able to determine whether these consumption levels are stable or whether downward trends can be observed."

The data collected in the study are currently processed and evaluated in detail; the findings will be published soon. A follow-up study in the form of continued recording of antimicrobial use in livestock farming over a longer period of time is currently in preparation. The aim of this study will be to establish the future development of antibiotics use.

The findings are to be used, among other things, to assess the use of antibiotics in livestock farming in Germany — not least in the European context. In addition, the data provides indications on how and where the use of antimicrobials could be reduced further.

More information on the VetCAb project is available at http://www.vetcab.de/ (in German).