02.10.2017 |

Eating less meat can help cut antibiotic use in farm animals, study finds

We must discourage livestock rearing practices that depend on antibiotics (Photo: CC0)

The overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming is fueling a global health crisis in antibiotic resistance. A new study, published in the journal Science, says that limiting meat consumption and introducing regulatory caps and user fees on veterinary antimicrobial use could significantly slash farm antibiotic use. “The large and expanding use of antimicrobials in livestock, a consequence of growing global demand for animal protein, is of considerable concern in light of the threat of antimicrobial resistance,” the study warns. Almost 80% of all antibiotics used in the US are given to animals, mainly for growth promotion. Global antibiotic use in food animals outweighs human consumption by nearly three times. In 2013, more than 131,000 tons of antibiotics were used in food animals. The study projects that by 2030, the figure could reach more than 200,000 tons if left unchecked. “This scale up in antibiotics, primarily as a substitute for good nutrition and hygiene in livestock production, is simply unsustainable and will be devastating to efforts to conserve the effectiveness of our current antibiotics,” said senior author Ramanan Laxminarayan. “We already face a crisis, but continuing to use medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals is like pouring oil on a fire.”

The authors offer three recommendations on how to curb antimicrobial consumption in farm animals. The first measure is introducing regulations that set caps on the use of antibiotics in farm animals. The scientists calculated that a cap of 50 milligram of antimicrobials per year per kilogram of animal product could lead to a 64% drop in antibiotic use. If that cap was only applied to China and the member countries of the OECD, the global consumption in 2030 would already be reduced by 60%.

„A second solution to reduce antimicrobial consumption in animal production may be to promote low-animal-protein diets,” the study found. „Limiting meat intake worldwide to 40 g/day – the equivalent of one standard fast-food burger per person – could reduce global consumption of antimicrobials in food animals by 66%. “In the United States, people eat on average 260 grams of meat per day,” said lead author Thomas Van Boeckel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “Reducing the meat consumption to 165 grams of meat per day – or four standard fast food hamburgers per person – would reduce the global consumption of antimicrobials by more than 20%.” The study points out that China has recently revised downward its nutritional guidelines for meat intake to 40-70 g/day, which is roughly half the current consumption level. “If followed, this measure could have an indirect but substantial impact on the global consumption of veterinary antimicrobials,” the authors predict.

A third solution to cut antimicrobial use would be to impose a user fee, paid by veterinary drug users, on sales of antimicrobials for nonhuman use. “The idea – which is not new – is to make antibiotics more expensive so that farmers and veterinarians would only use them when necessary,” Van Boeckel said. “Imposing a 50% tax on antibiotics for food animals could decrease global consumption by more than 30%, and at the same time generate revenues from $1.7 to 4.6 billion, which could be invested into research for new antibiotics or improvements to farm hygiene.” He argues that there is no silver bullet solution to reduce antibiotic use in farm animals and points out that the recommendations are not mutually exclusive. But if the three measures were combined and fully implemented, this could reduce the antibiotic consumption by up to 80%. (ab)

Back to news list


Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
English versionDeutsche VersionDeutsche Version