Resistance to antibiotics (broadly referred to as anti-microbial resistance, or AMR) is a growing problem of international importance.
While much of the blame is being put on doctors oversubscribing antibiotics, some is being directed to overuse of antibiotics in the livestock sectors. But is this criticism valid for Australia?
To answer this, it is necessary to understand the extent to which “antibiotics important for human health” are being used in the livestock sector, and if they are being used, for what purposes. Antibiotics, when used according to prescribed guidelines for therapeutic reasons, are an essential part of maintaining good health and welfare within the human and animal populations.
In most instances, antibiotics prescribed by vets for livestock differ significantly from those prescribed for humans by doctors. Nevertheless, the livestock sector strictly forbids products derived from treated animals being allowed to enter the food chain until legal withholding periods expire.
Prophylactic use of antibiotics and the use of antibiotics to enhance the growth rates of animals, on the other hand, are being seen increasingly as posing unnecessary risk. The European Union is currently considering legislation banning prophylactic use of antibiotics in the livestock sector.
Australian governments and livestock industries are working together to ensure Australia remains a responsible user of antibiotics by taking proactive steps towards zero tolerance of antibiotic misuse. Australia’s chief veterinary officer and chief medical officer co-chair the Australian Strategic and Technical Advisory Group whose work is focused entirely on the AMR problem.
The group developed an AMR website (https://www.amr.gov.au), which has information on research and awareness tools for professionals and the public, and orchestrated Australia’s First National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy 2015–2019 (also available on the website). Industry has provided unanimous support for the banning of antibiotics (“of significance to humans”) being used as antimicrobial growth promotants (AGPs) in the production of livestock.
It is widely accepted the use of AGPs in Australian livestock is negligible. Evidence to support this claim is continually being gathered and, when collected, will allow strong statements to be made officially and internationally. Meanwhile, any livestock sector that finds evidence of such a practice has agreed to its phasing out as a matter of urgency.
- Margo Andrea is Cattle Council of Australia CEO who is one of The Land’s columnists talking all things livestock.