Friday, March 27, 2015

Despite U.S. efforts, global antibiotic use to increase

Could the big push to eliminate all but the most necessary uses of antibiotics in farm animals be for naught when it comes to preventing the global spread of antimicrobial-resistant diseases?

According to one researcher, despite all the efforts in the U.S. and Europe to eliminate nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics on the ranch, the drugs' overall use in livestock worldwide is expected to rise 67 percent between 2010 and 2030.

So concludes a study by researcher Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, a health research firm that has been focusing on the problem of antibiotic resistance in human medicine.

Based on rising animal populations and changes in farming methods, Laxminarayan asserts that a near doubling of antibiotic consumption in five countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- will drive the increased use. His findings were published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Laxminarayan says he hopes the research will prompt countries around the world to improve their production systems.

"What we propose (is) that in countries with fairly well optimized production systems, the value added from using antibiotics in subtherapeutic concentrations is not as large as it may have been in the past," he told me in an email this week. "That's not the case in developing countries, that should work to build better livestock production systems to avoid reliance on antibiotics."

Dave Daley, a rancher and interim dean at Chico State's College of Agriculture, doesn't put too much stock in Laxminarayan's study.

"Those studies are based on a lot of different assumptions" that may or may not come true, Daley said. "It may be used as a talking point by groups, but frankly in terms of policy or practice, we need to focus on judicious use for control and treatment."

As I reported several weeks ago in the Capital Press' lead story, new guidelines from the federal Food and Drug Administration have effectively eliminated use of the drugs for livestock growth promotion or feed efficiency, and new herd management practices and advances in vaccines and nutrition are preventing illnesses on the farm that would require antibiotics to treat.

Government pressure on the use of antibiotics in livestock continues to mount. As the Capital Press' Mateusz Perkowski reported this week, Oregon lawmakers are considering their own state restrictions on such treatments.

Pick your cliche. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and diseases know no international borders. If we're doing everything we can to tackle antibiotic resistance and yet it's business as usual in Russia and Brazil, what's the point?

I'll be continuing to look into the ramifications of this global study and will report back soon. For our ongoing coverage of this issue, keep watch at

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