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Prevent infection  –  Examples from the field

The Dutch success model

Routine use of antibiotics in animals has been a common but controversial practice in meat production for decades.

While scientific studies have shown a direct link between the use of antibiotics in animals and resistant bacteria on farms and in the outside world, the large scale food production industry has repeatedly rejected claims stating that reducing the use of antibiotics would reduce productivity and increase costs for food production.

In the Netherlands, relatively low levels of antibiotics are used in human medicine but in the past, significant amounts of antibiotics were used at livestock farms. Despite awareness of the negative consequences of irrational use of antibiotics in animals, total therapeutic antimicrobial use in farm animals doubled between 1990 and 2007.

Human and animal health in focus

In 2009, an extremely resistant infection was spreading in gut flora across the Netherlands and the source was found to be ESBL-producing bacteria from food animals. This formed a window of opportunity leading farmers in the Netherlands to decide that animal health and human health would be a priority. The Dutch minister of agriculture stepped up and formed a new policy, outlawing the preventive use of antibiotics, requiring veterinarian inspection before their use. The new policy also mandated the overall reduction in antibiotic usage by 20% in the first year and 50% in three years. The outcome was remarkable, sales in antibiotics to livestock farms dropped 56% from 2007 to 2012 and without any big consequences in efficiency, or financial returns. Dutch farmers have been stepping up to improve hygiene practices, to keep animals healthy in a natural way without the use of antibiotics. If the Netherlands can reduce the use of antibiotics with out damaging productivity, maybe other countries can follow suit.

“It is my firm belief that we should ban the use of our last-resort antibiotics in animal husbandry all together. These precious medicines are our common heritage. We should treat them as such. Now, I know that for a lot of countries agriculture is a major economic pillar. I know there is the fear of economic losses. I know from experience. You may not realize it, but the Netherlands, small as we are, is a world player in this field. We are the second largest exporter of agricultural products, next to the United States… We were the number one of heavy users of antibiotics in Europe. We too made the mistake of using antibiotics rather than optimizing the living conditions of our livestock. Only in three years time we managed to change the course drastically. And: without ruining the sector! We are still the number two in agricultural export!”Edith Ingeborg Schippers, the Dutch Minister of Health Welfare and Sport

A short film on the Netherlands experience of improving infection control and reducing the use of antibiotics can be seen here:

Selected Resources

Resource Description
Antibiotic resistance in the livestock industry  A description of the Netherland work to reduce antibiotic use in animals.
Reduction of Veterinary Antimicrobial Use in the Netherlands. The Dutch Success Model This article describes and analyses the processes and actions behind this transition from an abundant antimicrobial use in farm animals towards a more prudent application of antimicrobials in farm animals in the Netherlands.
Reduction of antibiotic use in animals ‘‘let’s go Dutch” This paper explores the trends in antibiotic use in the Netherlands, in particular focussing on the reducing trends in recent years, and the measures which led to the strong reducing trend which can be observed over a period of more than 3 years now.
The Abstinence Method: Dutch farmers just say no to antibiotics for livestock  An article describing the efforts to improve infection prevention and control measures in the Netherlands in order to reduce the use of antibiotics in farm animals.

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