Animal protein production accounts for roughly 73% of global antibiotic use.1 Due to growing demand for meat, dairy and fish in in low- and middle-income countries, coupled with a boom in large-scale intensive farming operations, antibiotic use in animal agriculture is projected to rise by 67% by 2030, and nearly double in in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.2
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a natural phenomenon in which microorganisms develop resistance to antimicrobial agents. However, this is being accelerated by poor stewardship of antibiotics in healthcare and farming. It has been estimated that – if AMR continues unchecked – there will be an 11% loss in livestock production by 2050.3
AMR bacteria or AMR-encoding genes can transfer from animals to humans through the environment, food chain, or by direct contact. A growing number of common bacterial infections in humans – including urinary tract infections and pneumonia – are becoming more difficult to treat.
If antibiotics continue to lose their effectiveness, caesarean sections, chemotherapy and other commonplace medical interventions could become extremely high risk. This would severely undermine modern medicine. Around 700,000 deaths per year globally are caused by antibiotic-resistant infections – and this could rise if we don’t tackle AMR appropriately.
Using antibiotics to treat disease in animals protects their welfare and prevents unnecessary deaths. However, it is not necessary to use antibiotics to prevent disease in animal groups if no animal is diseased, nor to promote growth in healthy animals.
Many countries have taken action to curb antibiotic use in animal agriculture in recent years. Animal protein producers need to ensure that they comply with the restrictions they are subject to in their countries of operation.
As well as managing the risks associated with antibiotic use, animal protein producers need to consider the opportunities. Consumer demand for “antibiotic-free”* meat is increasing:
- Sales of “antibiotic-free” meat in the US grew by c. 29% each year between 2011-15
- Compared to c. 5% for “conventional” meat4
A recent survey conducted by Consumer Reports in the US found that more than one-third of consumers frequently buy meat, poultry, and other foods with a “no antibiotics” claim.5 Animal protein producers willing to respond to consumers’ concerns about antibiotic use in food animals are therefore arguably better positioned for growth.
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*There is no standard definition of “antibiotic-free meat”. The label – like the “no antibiotics” label – can mean animals grown without any antibiotics.