Preventive measures reduce the use of antibiotics on production animals

European Antibiotic Awareness Day is marked annually on 18 November. In the year 2014 the Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira is raising people's awareness of the efforts made to promote the health and welfare of production animals in Finland. Preventive measures have been a main priority in Finland for decades. The most effective way to keep the consumption of antibiotics at a moderate level is to prevent animals from falling ill in the first place.

In October, the European Medicines Agency EMA published its fourth report on the consumption of antibiotics in food producing animals, ‘Sales of veterinary antimicrobial agents in 26 EU/EEA countries in 2012’. The differences between countries are significant. The Nordic countries use antibiotics least to treat production animals. Iceland and Norway used antibiotics the least of all countries. In the comparison of EU member states, Sweden was the country that used the least antibiotics, while Finland was a close second.

As regards animal diseases, the situation in Finland has remained good. In addition to the authorities' regulations on import, the voluntary industry guidelines on imports pay special attention to the prevention of major animal diseases. Other guidelines for the prevention of animal diseases than the guidelines on imports have also been drawn up jointly, and all relevant operators have committed to observe them. The Association for Animal Disease Prevention (ETT ry) has played a key role in this.

A Finnish success story: broiler production

In many countries, antibiotics are used in large quantities on broilers. Not so in Finland. In recent years, antibiotics have not been used on a single production-farm broiler flock, i.e. on broilers that end up on consumers' plates. The use of antibiotics on breeder broilers is also exceptionally low in Finland; only some individual batches of birds belonging to the same age group have required treatment with antibiotics.

The industry's excellent provision of health care has been essential in maintaining the health of broilers, and veterinary surgeons play a major role in this. Clinical signs are diagnosed, samples are taken to verify which bacteria have caused the disease and drug sensitivity is tested before administering any medication. Drugs are not always required. In some cases, the disease outbreak can be controlled by other means.

Finland is one of the few countries in which all the birds in a batch of broilers belonging to the same age group are slaughtered at the same time. This all-in-all-out system means that Finnish broiler farms are completely emptied between batches, making it easier to maintain a high level of hygiene on the farm premises. Finland is also free from many of the contagious avian viral diseases commonly found in other countries, the kind of disease that predisposes birds to bacterial infections. This has been achieved through long-term cooperation between the industry, the authorities and animal health experts.

Less need to use medication on fattening pigs

In Finland, the use of veterinary antimicrobial agents on fattening pigs is mostly necessary only in individual cases. Naturally, some outbreaks of disease may occur on pig farms that will require administering antibiotics to more than one pig or a larger group of pigs. In many other countries, administering antibiotics to large groups of fattening pigs is common.

Animal health can be promoted and maintained, for example, by attention to the living conditions of animals, such as good air quality and sufficient space, and by safeguarding them from undue exposure to diseases. Finland has benefited from the existence of a voluntary national health classification register for pig farms (Sikava), as the occurrence of major pig diseases requiring medication, such as enzootic pneumonia and swine dysentery, has been reduced to a minimum.

The need to use veterinary antimicrobial agents is also influenced by the pig farmers' own actions. Farm-specific disease prevention measures involving in particular acquisition of animals and feed as well as movement of people in animal facilities can help prevent infections that cause swine diseases from entering to the pig farms. Within each pig farm, exposure to diseases can be reduced by various measures such as systematically grouping the animals and disinfecting the pens and compartments before bringing in a new batch of pigs. An all-in-all-out system accompanied by effective disinfection procedures is the best way to interrupt a chain of infection between animal batches.

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