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18 March 2022

Belgian livestock farming further reduces antibiotic use

Belgian livestock farming can show good figures when it comes to antibiotic use. While the drop in antibiotic use appeared to stagnate in 2020, use has further fallen in the past year. And with a new covenant (2021-2024) the sector has committed itself to take yet further steps. Less antibiotic use benefits animal and human health. Less use of antibiotics also reduces the likelihood of resistance. This also increases the likelihood of success after antibiotic treatment in human and animal health. With this wisdom in mind, years of efforts have already been put into reducing the use of antibiotics. And not without success. Raising public awareness, legislation and preventive measures have reduced antibiotic use since 2011 by 40 per cent.

Raising public awareness as an important weapon

The year 2020 was an exception, because after years of falls in antibiotic use a stillstand was noted for the first time. This was a wake-up call for the sector, as in the meantime better figures have emerged. From the latest antibiotic barometer from AMCRA, the knowledge centre for antibiotic use and resistance among animals, it appears that in the period between July 2020 and June 2021 fewer antibiotics were again registered.

According to Jeroen Dewulf, chairman of AMCRA, raising public awareness is an important weapon in the further reduction of antibiotic use. There is already much raising of awareness based on the new 2021-2024 antibiotic covenant. This covenant states that AMCRA and other stakeholders want to further reduce total antibiotic use in animals in our country to 65 per cent by 2024 compared to 2011.

Compulsory antibiotic registration for cattle farming in 2022

To achieve this reduction, much is also expected from the reduction pathway agreed this year with the pig, veal calf and poultry sectors. In these sectors, benchmark reports are issued in which the performance of a farmer is tested against a set figure. If the report turns red, a programme to reduce antibiotic use will be set up. “In this way, a concrete reduction plan is worked out to achieve the targets,” says Fabiana Dal Pozzo, coordinator of AMCRA.

She also has high expectations of the antibiotics registration obligation that will apply to the dairy and beef farming sectors next year. “At the moment, the registration requirement only applies to the pig, veal calf and poultry sectors, but a law is being drafted that will make the registration of antibiotics mandatory in the cattle sector as well,” Dal Pozzo said. “Once the figures are in order in this sector too, it will be possible to draw up targeted programmes to reduce use.

In addition to farm animals, AMCRA wants to extend its focus to horses and pets in the future. “There are still many steps to be taken here. And that is important because these animals frequently come into contact with humans and can thus transmit possible antibiotic resistance,” concludes chairman Dewulf.

Antibiotics covenant 2021-2024

In Belgium, the various partners from the animal production chain and the Belgian Ministers of Agriculture and of Health have concluded a covenant aimed at further reducing antibiotic use in the agricultural sector. In so doing, the sector is committing to further reduce the use of antibiotics in farm animals to 65 per cent in the period 2021-2024 compared to 2011. This second covenant thus goes one step further than the first one (2016-2020), which called for a 50 per cent reduction in the use of antibiotics.

What is AMCRA?

AMCRA is the federal knowledge centre for all things related to antibiotic use and resistance in animals and was founded in 2012. It collects and analyses all data related to the use of and resistance to antimicrobials in animals in Belgium. On this basis, AMCRA advises and raises awareness on the reduction of the use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine in Belgium. The ultimate goal: to safeguard public health, animal health and animal welfare and to achieve a sustainable antibiotics policy in Belgium.

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