Cutting Antibiotics: Denmark Leads Way in Healthier Pig Farming

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Julia Koch, November 13, 2013 (Photo Gallery - Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein).

Many tons of antibiotics are administered every year to chickens and pigs in Europe, a trend that encourages the rise of drug-resistant microbes. But Denmark has shown how farmers can be made to abandon this policy of dangerous over-medication.

Before Michael Nielsen goes into his barn, he first strips down to just his T-shirt, socks and underwear, pulls on a white jumpsuit and rubber shoes, and scrubs his hands with disinfectant. Only then does he check on his pigs … //

… The Approach of a Post-Antibiotic Era:

Each use of antibiotics creates more bacteria with genetic resistance to antimicrobial agents, eventually resulting in drug-resistant “killer bugs” that can make a lung infection, for example, life threatening for humans as well.

“The more antibiotics we use today, the less chance we’ll still have effective antibiotics tomorrow,” warns Steven Solomon from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US. Already, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC estimate that each year over 40,000 people in the European Union and the United States die of infections caused by multi-resistant microbes. Epidemiologists predict a coming “post-antibiotic era.”

Scientists believe part of the responsibility lies with farmers’ careless overuse of these drugs. Doctors, too, overprescribe antibiotics for human patients, but experts estimate that twice as many antibiotics are now prescribed to healthy animals as to sick humans. “I think we have this the wrong way round,” says England’s Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies. “Epidemiologists don’t need to prove that using antibiotics for livestock poses a danger. The vets need to prove why they need so many antibiotics.”

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan likewise criticizes a powerful lobby she says wants to “prevent regulation of any kind.” Just one country, Denmark, is a “pioneer in its handling of this problem,” Chan says.

Denmark first slammed on the brakes and began strictly regulating the use of antibiotics 20 years ago. If farmers’ usage increases despite these regulations, they face sanctions. In Germany, on the other hand, until recently there was no data on the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture. And analysis broken down by species or by individual farm, as is available in Denmark, doesn’t exist in Germany.

Germany Lagging Behind Other Countries: … //

… (full text).


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