“The proposal by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that antimicrobial agents belong to so-called reserve antibiotics and should be reserved exclusively for the treatment of humans is too lax. Germany should urgently refine the law here and set a good example within the EU,” asked Reinhild Benning of the German Environmental Aid (DUH) on Tuesday this week (26.04.22) during of an online conference of the DUH on the topic “The future of animal health – and the question of reserve antibiotics in the barn”.
Halve the use of antibiotics by 2030
We are talking about fluoroquinolones, 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins, macrolides and polymyxins and here in particular colistin. As part of the “Farm2Fork” strategy, the EU has formulated the clear target of reducing antibiotic consumption by a further 50% by 2030. So far, however, they have not taken the necessary steps. required.
Germany is also lagging behind. After initial successes in reducing antibiotics in animal husbandry, consumption increased significantly again from 2019 to 2020 – at least in poultry farming. The consumption of colistin, the reserve antibiotic, has notably increased sharply. In the case of poultry in particular, the majority of treatments are methaphylactic and collective treatments via drinking water. This is unacceptable because many healthy animals are also treated in this way, which almost causes resistance to develop.
Antibiotic resistance is a “silent pandemic”
According to the DUH, the fact that 1.2 million people die each year from infections with multi-drug resistant pathogens shows how urgent it is to reduce the consumption of antibiotics in both human and veterinary medicine as part of a one-health approach. available antibiotics are no longer effective. And each subsequent use of an antibiotic automatically leads to the development of additional resistance. German environmental aid therefore speaks of a “creeping pandemic”.
Virtually no new active ingredients in the “pipeline”
It is all the more important to use currently available antibiotics responsibly, underlined Prof. Dr. Winfried Kern of the Medicines Commission of the German Medical Association. Because in the near future there will hardly be any new developments or approvals due to the extremely high development costs. Most also have the same mechanisms of action as existing products. So it’s only a matter of time before resistance develops here too.
Some antibiotics in the process of being approved have even been withdrawn by the pharmaceutical industry at the last moment because they are only used in a few emergencies anyway and their marketing therefore does not appear to be economical.
Antibiotic minimization strategy falters
The head of the food safety and animal health department, Prof. Dr Markus Schick. The previous concept of minimizing antibiotics was very successful in the early years and the use of antibiotics has been reduced by 60% since 2011. In the meantime, however, a plateau has been reached with cattle and pigs , which necessitates a review of the strategy.
BMEL presented a key issues paper on this. Among other things, it stipulates that in the future, the use of antibiotics in sows, suckling piglets and pigs not intended for fattening from a live weight of 30 kg must also be reported. In addition, amateur pig farmers will also have to be reported in the future. And the consumption of active ingredients important to human medicine should be given more weight when calculating the frequency of treatment, Schick explained.
stabilize animal health
However, the new federal government hopes to realize the greatest savings from animal husbandry restructuring, which focuses on animal health, Schick said. Livestock should be more closely linked to the area. This reduces stocking density, which is good for animal health. In addition, as part of a new animal health strategy, all performance, slaughter, animal health and antibiotic consumption data must be recorded and evaluated in a common database.
However, the conversion of livestock farming is a long-term process, especially since many questions of construction law and, last but not least, the financing of the conversion must be settled.
General prohibition without effect
“A general ban on certain classes of active ingredients for use in animal husbandry is certainly not sufficient,” said Professor Dr. Bernd Alois Tenhagen of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) convinced during of the final discussion of the conference. This only leads to switching to other substances. On the contrary, it is important to further regulate when which classes of active ingredients can be used. The barriers to the use of certain antibiotics like colistin must be so high that their use is simply no longer attractive from an economic point of view.
The primary goal is to reduce resistance pressure in human medicine, according to Tenhagen. It is therefore important to prevent people from coming into contact with resistant germs. This also includes optimizing food hygiene. And more research needs to be done on how antibiotic-resistant germs are transmitted between humans, animals and the environment.