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Rational use  –  Food animals

Set up a program

A rational use initiative at individual farm level has to be adjusted to the local situation at the actual farm.

Animals are kept for different purposes – for food, as companion animals, for recreation and sports. There is a wide range of animal species that are being kept, and they are held in different animal husbandry systems. Programs on rational use thus have to be specific for the actual animal holding.

Promote animal health

Improved animal health is the base needed to be able to optimize antibiotic use, and rational use of antibiotic is not possible without including measures that increases the intrinsic health of the animal. This includes good hygiene, good nutrition, biosecurity, use of vaccines and to optimize housing conditions.

An initial step to set up a rational use initiative at the farm level is to analyze the animal health situation at the farm, if possible together with other professionals such as veterinarians and other husbandry experts. 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. The EPRUMA best practice framework for the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals provides building blocks that a farmer can implement to develop a farm-specific health plan.

Read more in PREVENT INFECTION: Non-human.

Optimize antibiotic use

Animals can still get sick, even with high level of animal husbandry practices. When antibiotic treatment is indicated, it should be used as targeted treatment based on clinical diagnosis and, whenever possible, on the results of microbiological susceptibility tests, and using an antibiotic agent of as narrow-spectrum as possible. Several guidelines on prudent antibiotic use have been published by different stakeholders.

Questions to ask before initiating an antibiotic treatment to ensure that the treatment is justified:

  • Does the disease need antibacterial treatment or are there other options besides antibacterial treatment?
  • Will the potential risk of inducing resistance outweigh the benefit of treatment?
  • Will the antibiotic treatment work against the causative pathogen?
  • Will the antibiotic treatment pose risks to public health?

Components when evaluating appropriate use of antibiotics in the animal sector:

  • Application of measures to improve animal health (see PREVENT INFECTION: Non-human)
  • Record keeping of all antibiotic use that includes: name of antibiotic, date of treatment, animal treated, dose, length of treatment, indication (diagnosis), route of administration, name of prescriber, withdrawal time and name of person giving the treatment.
  • Regular analysis of antibiotic use records to identify
    • 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)
    • Use of critically important antibiotics and under which indication
    • Animal health problems that need to be addressed
  • Implementation of corrective actions to counteract
    • Inappropriate antibiotic use
    • Animal health problems

Selected Resources

Guidelines and standards

Resource Description
CODEX ALIMENTARIUS: Codex Texts on Foodborne Antimicrobial Resistance (PDF) Document part of the CODEX ALIMENTARIUS international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice for international food trade. Compiles the 2 Codex guidelines “Code of Practice to Minimize and Contain Antimicrobial Resistance” (ref no: CAC/RCP 61-2005) and “Guidelines for risk analysis of foodborne antimicrobial resistance”. It provides guidance for the responsible and prudent use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals and for assessing risk to human health from foodborne antibiotic resistant bacteria as well as determining appropriate management strategies to control those risks. English, French and Spanish versions included.
Critically important antimicrobials for human medicine, 5th revision Assessment from WHO of which antimicrobials are of highest importance to human health. Substances are categorized into three groups: critically important, highly important, and important.
Guidelines for the prudent use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine (2015/C 299/04) Guidelines from the European Commission that provide authorities, farmers and veterinarians with recommendations and practical examples for development and implementation of strategies to promote the prudent use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine. Available in a number of languages.
OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code Chapter 6.10: Responsible and prudent use of antimicrobial agents in veterinary medicine.
Guide to Prudent Use of Antimicrobial Agents in Dairy Production The objective of this guide is to promote prudent use practices based on science, and taking into account parameters which are relevant and essential to dairy farming. Also available in French and Spanish. Dairy production.
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. Aquaculture.
OIE Aquatic Animal Health Code OIE guide to development and harmonisation of national antimicrobial resistance surveillance and monitoring programmes for aquatic animals. Chapter 6.2: Principles for responsible and prudent use of antimicrobial agents in aquatic animals.


Resource Description
Keeping veterinary medicine records Guidance 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.

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