Experts suggest drastic changes in animal farming practice & regulations to avoid a post antibiotic world!

A new important study by the CDDEP highlights the projected impacts of a global strategy to reduce antibiotic consumption in food animal production


New Delhi: Overuse of antibiotics is fueling a global health crisis in antibiotic resistance. Worldwide, antibiotic consumption in food animals outweighs human consumption nearly three fold. Left unchecked, it is estimated to rise 53 percent globally between 2013 and 2030.

And Indians have more reasons to be alarmed by the antibiotic resistance threat that has reached to their doorsteps. A new study published in the journal ‘Science’ by researchers at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP) in New Delhi and partners have predicted 82 percent increase in antibiotic consumption in India by 2030.

The experts analyzed and described a comprehensive strategy for preserving antibiotic effectiveness by reducing antibiotic use in farm animals up to 80 percent globally by the year 2030. The study estimated the global antibiotic consumption in the sector and it’s projected increase over the next few years. The alarming news for India is that if left unchecked, the antibiotics will pose a deadly threat to the health of its population in next one decade. While India reported using 2,633 tons of antibiotics in food animals in 2013, the researchers predict that this is likely to soar by 82 percent by 2030.

“This scale up in antibiotic use, 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. We already face a crisis, but continuing to use medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals is like pouring oil on a fire,” said study author and CDDEP Director Ramanan Laxminarayan.

India reported using 2,633 tons of antibiotics in food animals in 2013. The researchers predict that this likely to soar by 82 percent by 2030.

China is the top user of antibiotics in food production with 78,200 tons in 2013 (projected to increase 59 percent by 2030). It is followed by the United States with 9,476 tons (projected increase of 22 percent by 2030). Brazil is at the third position with 6,448 tons (projected increase of 41 percent by 2030) and Spain with 2,202 tons stands at fourth position (projected increase of 6 percent by 2030).

“India is the fourth largest consumer of antibiotics in animal food production globally and is on an increasingly dangerous path,” Laxminarayan warned. “The country has a huge unregulated livestock sector that freely uses these drugs which are easily accessible. Two-thirds of poultry farms in Punjab, for example, still use antibiotics for growth promotion. Such farms also reported high levels of multidrug resistant bacteria which can easily escape into the environment. We are losing medically important antibiotics at a very fast pace.”

Globally, more than 1,30,000 tons of antibiotics were used in animals in 2013, which is projected to cross 2,00,000 tons by 2030. Given the large-scale consumption, interventions aimed at the animal farming sector are critical.

Way Forward: The researchers have estimated the global impact of the below three interventions that could together reduce antibiotic use in animals by up to 80 percent.

♦ Regulations capping the use of antibiotics in farm animals could achieve a 64 percent reduction in consumption.

♦ Limiting meat intake to the equivalent of one fast-food burger per person per day globally could reduce antibiotic consumption in animals by 66 percent.

♦ Imposing a 50 percent user fee on the price of veterinary antibiotics could reduce consumption by 31 percent while generating revenues of US $ 1.7 billion to $4.6 billion per year, which could be used to spur drug development.

Prof Ramanan Laxminarayan.
Prof Ramanan Laxminarayan.

“The potential impacts are huge, and these measures can be implemented immediately in all countries,” Laxminarayan said. “A modest user fee on the price of these antibiotics, coupled with funding to farmers to use veterinary vaccines and other interventions to reduce the need for antibiotics, could discourage livestock rearing practices that involve using large quantities of antibiotics,” he added. “Revenues generated could be plowed back into research and drug development that will especially benefit the countries like India where we are fast running out of treatment options.”

Last year’s meeting on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) at the United Nations General Assembly recognized the inappropriate use of these drugs in animals as a leading cause of rising AMR. “We must act decisively and we must act now, in a comprehensive manner, to preserve antibiotic effectiveness,” Laxminarayan said.

The study was co-authored by researchers at the Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University (USA); Institute of Integrative Biology, ETH Zurich (Switzerland); the Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium); and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.