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One Health Resource Center

October 02, 2017
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Researchers propose limiting meat intake to keep antibiotics effective

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Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD
Ramanan
Laxminarayan

Researchers said that capping drug use in animals, imposing a user fee on the price of veterinary antimicrobials or limiting meat intake could reduce up to 80% of antimicrobial use worldwide by 2030.

According to Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD, director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy (CDDEP), and colleagues, inappropriate use of antimicrobials in animals is a leading cause of drug resistance in both humans and animals. The researchers estimated that 131,109 tons of antimicrobials were used in animals globally in 2013. If left unchecked, this number is projected to increase to 200,235 tons by 2030.

Antimicrobial consumption for food animal production by country
Antimicrobial consumption for food animal production by country in 2013 (light red) and projected for 2030 (dark red).
Source: Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy.

“This scale up in antibiotics, 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,” Laxminarayan said in a press release. “We already face a crisis, but continuing to use medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals is like pouring oil on a fire.”

In a recent report published in Science, the researchers proposed three strategies that address the contribution of antibiotic use in animals to drug resistance. The first involves a global regulation that would cap the use of antimicrobials at 50 mg per population correction unit (PCU), which could reduce 64% of consumption by 2030. Laxminarayan and colleagues noted that this amount of antimicrobial use is currently employed by some Europeans countries with “highly productive” livestock sectors. They added that even if the regulation is implemented only in China and in countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation, the cap would still reduce 60% of global consumption without affecting vulnerable farmers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Healio infographic
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The second strategy is to limit global meat intake to 40 g per day, which is the equivalent of one fast-food burger per person. This would reduce 66% of antimicrobial consumption in food animals by 2030. However, the researchers acknowledged that this is an “unlikely” strategy given that meat consumption averages 260 g per day in the United States alone. A more realistic cap of 165 g of meat per day could reduce 22% of global consumption by 2030.

Finally, the third strategy is to impose a 50% user fee of the current price on veterinary antimicrobials, which could reduce 31% of global consumption. This policy would generate yearly revenues of $1.7 billion to $4.6 billion. Alternative user fee rates of 10% or 100% could reduce 9% or 46% of global consumption while generating $0.4 billion to $1.2 billion or $2.8 billion to $7.5 billion in revenues.

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“A modest user fee on the price on veterinary antibiotics is appropriate given the magnitude of the threat and could discourage livestock rearing practices that involve using large quantities of antibiotics,” Laxminarayan said.

If any of these policies are implemented, the researchers said that “major investments” in farm hygiene and veterinary services would be needed to compensate for reductions in antimicrobial use among animals in LMICs.

“We face a critical choice if we are to have antibiotics that work. We can restrict our meat consumption to a recommended daily intake, or adopt state-of-art livestock practices globally to reduce antibiotic consumption,” Thomas P. Van Boeckel, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology (ETH), said in the release. “We cannot have both without putting the health of future populations at risk.” – by Stephanie Viguers

Disclosures: Laxminarayan reports receiving support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Van Boeckel is supported by an ETH postdoctoral fellowship and the program for Adaptation to a Changing Environment from ETH Zurich. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.