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Rational use  –  Food animals


This section focuses on tools and strategies for prudent antibiotic use at the farm level. It is intended to support efforts assisting farmers to improve antibiotic use practices.

Efforts to reduce antibiotic use in food-producing animals can be at different levels. From restricting or minimizing certain use (such as for growth promotion or prophylactic use) to removal of most or even all antibiotic use. Efforts can also be focused on making sure use is as appropriate as possible. Some example areas to work in to improve practices are:

  • Educating animal health professionals and farmers
  • Infection prevention
  • Antibiotic treatment
  • Record keeping
  • Waste management

Education and knowledge

An important component for achieving appropriate use is to increase knowledge among all actors involved in providing antibiotics to animals. Farmers and animal health personnel must learn to identify which diseases that should be treated with antibiotics and how to correctly use them. In countries where over-the-counter sale of antibiotics is allowed, farmers frequently get advice from pharmacists or even from companies. It is important that they also give accurate advice. Information must be adapted to the recipient, considering for example education level and literacy.

For training manuals, education materials and courses, see RAISE AWARENESS – Education and training materials.

Training farmers in rational drug-use improves their management of cattle trypanosomosis:

Description: 444 cattle farmers were divided into a test group and a control group (randomized, controlled trial). The test group got an 8-page picture booklet with information on the diagnosis and treatment of bovine trypanosomosis (sleeping sickness). The booklet was adapted to the local context and covered signs of disease, correct drugs and dosage, and instructions on how to prepare and administer the drugs. Farmer knowledge, clinical outcomes in cattle, and herd health was assessed before, at 2 weeks and 5 months after the intervention.

Place: 46 villages in south Mali.

Setting: Cattle farmers, low literacy level.

Finding: Providing easy-to-understand information on correct treatment of sleeping sickness significantly improved farmers knowledge and practices. Drug use was more appropriate and there were fewer side effects in cattle. Knowledge decreased over time, thus needs to be reinforced continually for example through drug pack inserts or leaflets at point of sale. The short follow-up period made it difficult to estimate longer-term trends in cattle health. (Note: article is not open access).

Close link to infection prevention

Improved animal health is often the base needed to be able to optimize antibiotic use. This includes good hygiene, good nutrition, biosecurity, use of vaccines and to optimize housing conditions. The level of animal health is a result of the management of a wide range of factors, which can be grouped as animal specific, husbandry system-dependent and management-dependent. For more information, see PREVENT INFECTION – Food animals.

Relationship between biosecurity and antibiotic use

Description:  Study that correlated biosecurity with production characteristics (observational, retrospective study). Biosecurity scores were calculated with the Biocheck.UGent tool and correlated with daily weight gain, feed conversion rate, mortality, prevalence of Salmonella infections and antibiotic treatment incidence.

Place: Belgium.

Setting: Pig farms, farrow to finish.

Finding: Better biosecurity correlated with improved productivity and health, such as higher daily weight gain and lower incidence of antibiotic treatment. (Note: article is not open access)

Antibiotic treatment

Even though some diseases require antibiotics, many diseases, including viral diseases and non-infectious diseases, do not. A good clinical diagnosis is therefore important. When antibiotic treatment is needed, it should ideally be used as targeted treatment based on the diagnosis and, whenever possible, on the results of microbiological susceptibility tests. That is, choosing the most appropriate antibiotic for the infection. Introducing or improving treatment guidelines for relevant diseases can farmers in this process. Some additional aspects of appropriate antibiotic use are:

  • Using an antibiotic that is as narrow-spectrum as possible
  • Avoiding antibiotics critically important in human medicine if possible
  • Using the correct dose for the correct period
  • Respecting withdrawal times

Withdrawal period and antibiotic residues

When food producing animals are treated with antibiotics the animal products contain residues the first period after treatment. Depending on the type of antibiotic, this time period can vary, and both animal health workers and providers of antibiotics must inform the farmers about this. Animals for meat production should not be slaughtered during this time period. Also, milk from lactating animals should not be consumed during this period. It is therefore called withdrawal period. During the period when milk cannot be consumed, it can be discarded or given to calves. Milk with mastitic changes should not be consumed by either humans nor animals.

Record keeping

Keeping veterinary records help to keep track of animal health, antibiotic use and withdrawal times. They can also be used to identify areas for improvement: Could antibiotic use have been avoided or more prudent?

Useful data to record is: Name of antibiotic, date of treatment, animal treated, dose, length of treatment, indication (diagnosis), route of administration, name of prescriber/source of antibiotic, withdrawal time and name of person giving the treatment.

Regular analysis of veterinary records can help to:

  • Identify animal health problems that need to be addressed
  • Assess antibiotic use practices, for example
    • Monitor use of critically important antibiotics and under which indication
    • Monitor non-therapeutic use such as use as growth promoter and routine use to prevent or control diseases during certain risk-periods (for example weaning of piglets)
  • Support implementation and evaluation of corrective actions to counteract animal health problems and inappropriate antibiotic use

Waste management

Making sure that medicinal and animal waste products are taken care of in the correct way is also important in work to optimize antibiotic use. After treatment with antibiotics, there are wastes that contain active substances. Used syringes, needles and medicine bottles should be burned or disposed of through other safe means. In some cases, systems for collection may be arranged through pharmacies who can provide safe alternatives for disposal.

When animals, or humans, are treated with antibiotics, urine and feces will contain antibiotic residues as well as bacteria (some of which may be resistant) that contribute to environmental contamination. Waste products should be properly handled or disposed of before for example being used as manure on crops.

Choose interventions

It can be difficult to decide on which interventions will work best. Important questions to consider are:

  • Is there evidence to support the use of the intervention?
  • Has the intervention been used in a similar context?
  • How might the intervention need adaptation to this setting?
  • Are sufficient resources available?
  • Is approval required for implementation?
  • What type of training will be needed?
  • What issues does this intervention uniquely address?
  • How will this intervention help overcome identified barriers?

Resources below have been separated into the following tables:

  • General
  • Pigs
  • Cattle/ruminants
  • Aquaculture

Educational resources can be found in RAISE AWARENESS – Education and training.

In MEASURE, you can access tools and resources to conduct studies on a variety of topics that relates to rational use, and to help determine the impact of interventions. Includes specific information for animal settings.

Selected Resources


Resource Description
Restricting the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals and its associations with antibiotic resistance in food-producing animals and human beings: a systematic review and meta-analysis Systematic review on the effect of interventions restricting antibiotic use in food animal production. Provides evidence that restricting use lowers the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the animals. The appendix lists all studies (2MB) included in the review and provides a quality assessment.
Keeping veterinary medicine records Template and instructions on how to keep veterinary medicine records. Includes an example format on record keeping (word document). Guidance for England, but can be used for inspiration/adapted for other contexts.
Guidelines for the use of antibiotics in production animals (PDF 1,1 MB) Example guideline. An example of a guideline for antibiotic use in production animals (cattle, pigs, sheep and goats). This one is developed by the Swedish Veterinary Association. Describes common diseases, diagnostics and treatment.
AACTING Guidelines Guidelines from the AACTING consortium intended to support when designing or revising farm-level AMU monitoring systems.
The Veterinary Benchmark Indicator (VBI) Country example and methodology. Benchmarking approach used in the Netherlands that focuses on usage of antibiotics on farms. The benchmarking classifies farms and veterinarians into “target, “signaling” and “action” zones. This page contains the original report (PDF,  0.8 MB) on the benchmarking and a report with revisions made to it (PDF, 2.2 MB). The annual reports contain the latest updates to the benchmarking thresholds (by the Netherlands Veterinary Medicines Institute, SDa)
Alternatives to Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture Article that provides an overview of alternative products that could be used to reduce the need for antibiotics in animal agriculture.


Resource Description
Prudent and efficient use of antimicrobials in pigs and poultry Review: A thorough review presented at the London Swine Conference 2013, including evidence of a whole range of interventions that could be used by pig producers to reduce the threat of antibiotic resistance in human and porcine pathogens.
FAO case study series: Tackling antimicrobial use and resistance in pig production Country examples describing work towards more prudent use of antibiotics in food animals. The first case study describes the Danish campaign to reduce antibiotic use in pig production. Includes monitoring of antibiotic use, initiatives made and lessons learned. Available in English, Spanish and Chinese.


Resource Description
Guide to Prudent Use of Antimicrobial Agents in Dairy Production Guide intended to promote prudent use practices based on evidence, and taking into account parameters which are relevant and essential to dairy farming. Also available in French and Spanish.


Resource Description
Improving biosecurity through prudent and responsible use of veterinary medicines in aquatic food production Guideline from FAO that discusses the use of veterinary medicines in aquaculture and gives examples of good practice and disease prevention measures.

More from "Food animals"

Sarmah AK, Meyer MT, Boxall ABA. A global perspective on the use, sales, exposure pathways, occurrence, fate and effects of veterinary antibiotics (VAs) in the environment. Chemosphere [Internet]. 2006 Oct;65(5):725–59. Available from:
Alternatives to Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture [Internet]. [cited 2019 Aug 28]. Available from:
The Swedish Veterinary Association. Guidelines for the use of antibiotics in production animals - Cattle, pigs, sheep and goats [Internet]. 2016. Available from:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - FAO. FAO case study series: Tackling antimicrobial use and resistance in pig production [Internet]. [cited 2019 Feb 25]. Available from:
World Health Organization - WHO. Critically Important Antimicrobials for Human Medicine [Internet]. WHO. [cited 2019 Jun 4]. Available from:
Autoriteit Diergeneesmiddelen. The Veterinary Benchmark Indicator (VBI) [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2016 May 10]. Available from:
Hampshire County Council. Keeping veterinary medicine records [Internet]. Hantsweb. [cited 2016 Jul 5]. Available from:
Grace D, Randolph T, Diall O, Clausen P-H. Training farmers in rational drug-use improves their management of cattle trypanosomosis: A cluster-randomised trial in south Mali. Preventive Veterinary Medicine [Internet]. 2008 Jan 1 [cited 2018 Sep 6];83(1):83–97. Available from:
Derosiers R. Why We Should Reduce Antibiotic Usage and Ways to Do It [Internet]. The Pig Site. [cited 2018 Sep 5]. Available from:
AACTING. AACTING | Guidelines [Internet]. [cited 2018 Aug 13]. Available from:
Tang KL, Caffrey NP, Nóbrega DB, Cork SC, Ronksley PE, Barkema HW, et al. Restricting the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals and its associations with antibiotic resistance in food-producing animals and human beings: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Planetary Health [Internet]. 2017 Nov 1;1(8):e316–27. Available from:
International Dairy Federation. Guide to Prudent Use of Antimicrobial Agents in Dairy Production [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2016 Jun 29]. Available from:
European Platform for the Responsible Use of Medicines in Animals - EPRUMA. Fact sheet: Responsible Use of medicines in animals: what does this mean? [Internet]. EPRUMA - Factsheets. 2015 [cited 2016 Jun 29]. Available from:
Laanen M, Persoons D, Ribbens S, de Jong E, Callens B, Strubbe M, et al. Relationship between biosecurity and production/antimicrobial treatment characteristics in pig herds. Vet J [Internet]. 2013;198(2):508–12. Available from:
World Organization for Animal Health - OIE. List of antimicrobial agents of veterinary importance [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2016 Mar 21]. Available from:
Bondad-Reantaso MG, Arthur JR, Subasinghe RP, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, editors. Improving biosecurity through prudent and responsible use of veterinary medicines in aquatic food production [Internet]. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; 2012. 207 p. (FAO fisheries and aquaculture technical paper). Available from: