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20 August 2021

Belgium’s first antibiotics covenant: steadily moving towards ambitious goals of permanent reduction.

The Belgian knowledge centre “Antimicrobial Consumption and Resistance in Animals” (AMCRA), under the chairmanship of Prof. Jeroen Dewulf, is taking up the fight against the use of antibiotics in Belgian livestock. Via the antibiotics covenant 2016 – 2020, AMCRA defined ambitious targets for a sustained reduction of antibiotic use by 2020. Antimicrobial resistance is a worldwide concern and the Belgian livestock sector is very aware of that. As a partner of AMCRA the sector is enabled to take up their responsibility.

The recently published BelVet-SAC Report 2020 showed that during the period between 2011 – 2020, the quantities of feed medicated with antibiotics in the Belgian livestock sector decreased by 70.4%. At the same time, the use of critically important antibiotics (fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins of the 3rd and 4th generation) was reduced by 70.1% and the overall use of antibiotics was reduced by 40.2%. Those results are promising.

The ultimate ambition is a sustained decrease in antibiotic resistance. That train seems to have really started rolling now.

The overall results are undeniable. And so is the willingness of everyone involved to continue to the effort. The ultimate ambition is a significant decrease in antibiotic resistance. That train seems to have really started rolling now. Since 2012, the use of colistin in Belgian veterinary medicine has decreased by 71.3%. This is an important signal because this critical antibiotic is used in human medicine as a last resort for serious infections with multi-resistant bacteria.

Most important, AMCRA found that the downward trend in the number of multi-resistant E. coli bacteria derived from animals continued in 2020, as did the decline in antibiotic resistance for critically important antibiotics.

A positive move towards reduced and sustainable antibiotic use has begun and the whole sector is determined to continue on the chosen path where there is still room for improvement.

New ambitions for 2024

For the new antibiotics convention 2021-2024, four main objectives were outlined in a vision statement.

  1. Determining sector-specific threshold values for AB use at the farm level and strive for a maximum of 1% heavy users.
  2. Moving total use of antibiotics in animals in Belgium towards a total reduction of 65% in comparison to 2011.
  3. Bring down the total use of colistin to less than 1 mg/kg biomass.
  4. A 75% reduction in antibiotic-enriched feedstuff compared to 2011.

More than before, the focus will be on predetermined reduction paths at the level of individual farms that are already in dangerous waters by exceeding the predefined limits for the use of antibiotics. Based on their results, the focus will be on coaching, guidance and awareness.

Quality systems, self-monitoring and self-regulation should eventually become the norm.

A holistic approach in which both the farmer and the accompanying veterinarian work together towards a further reduction of the use of antibiotics is a necessity. Quality systems, self-monitoring and self-regulation should eventually become the norm.

Room for self-regulation

An important condition for this is ‘room for self-regulation’. Leading experts in the field of antibiotics and animal health – such as Prof. Jeroen Dewulf – have previously indicated that overregulation can have the opposite effect and threaten the positive trend that we now see. Of course, governments will always provide a legal framework that can be monitored.

Jeroen Dewulf: “I believe it is important to give livestock farmers at least some slack. If you overwhelm them with measurements that they simply cannot adhere to, their motivation will fade away.”

Measures that have a big impact on a pig farm are water quality, keeping age groups together, avoiding overstocking in the pig house and a good purchasing and quarantine policy, to name a few. These are measures that farmers can apply themselves, if they have a good understanding of their importance and effect.

Awareness, biosecurity and hygiene are our strongest weapons against antibiotics resistance.

The challenge of preventive health care is that, contrary to curative health care, you don’t see tangible results. If an animal is not sick, nothing will jump out. When in terms of health everything is running smoothly in a pig house, a pig producer will hardly pay attention. So that is why I keep repeating: awareness, biosecurity and hygiene are our strongest weapons to reduce the use of antibiotics. I have good hopes that the sector will step up to achieve all goals by 2024.”

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