Currently in the United States, there is a keen debate about the desirability of banning the use of antimicrobial growth promoters (AGPs) in farm animal production. On the one hand, medical researchers and regulators believe that there is now convincing evidence that the use of antimicrobials in animal production is one factor contributing to the development of antimicrobial resistance in pathogens which infect humans. On the other hand, representatives of the farming and animal health industries take the opposite view and point to the problems a ban on the use of AGPs would cause for those in farm animal production. Attention is drawn to the fact that in Denmark where AGPs are no longer used there was a 30% increase in the amount of antimicrobials used to treat animals in 2000 compared with the previous year.
This statement is true but in order to understand what is happening in Denmark, we need to examine this fact in a much broader context.
The figures below show the amounts of antimicrobials used in Danish farm animal production for the past 10 years. The most significant feature is the rapid decline in the amount of antimicrobials used as growth promoters. In 1996, this was over 100,000 kg whereas in 2000, because of the decision to stop using AGPs, the value was zero. Considering the total amount of antimicrobials used, this has fallen from over 200,000 kg in 1994 to 80,600 kg in 2000.
The complete elimination of AGPs, especially from weaning pigs was accompanied by an increase in the incidence of gastric disorders, which accounts for the rise in antimicrobials used for treatment from 61,900 in 1999 to 80,600 in 3000. Further information is available from DANMAP see: http://www.svs.dk/dk
These problems were not unexpected but nevertheless the view was taken in Denmark by the pig producers themselves that the dangers to human health of failing to address antimicrobial resistance must take priority.
Furthermore, research is now in progress to determine how the current problems can be overcome by altering the feeding and management practices.
Use of antimicrobials in production of farm animals in Denmark
Source: DANMAP 2000
Total amount of antimicrobials used