Concern over antibiotics use on animal farms

Concern over antibiotics use on animal farms

17th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) is concerned about the overuse of antibiotics on cattle farms.

The medication ultimately causes the hospital superbug MRSA to become resistant.

The RIVM says that some human diseases may become untreatable if the bacteria continue to develop a resistance to antibiotics.

No alternatives

RIVM infection specialist Dr Roel Coutinho told NOS television:

"It's known for a fact that all bacteria ultimately become resistant. At that point, new antibiotics need to be used, but currently there are no new antibiotics in the pipeline. Therefore we have to restrain the use of the current antibiotic medication as much as we can.

That's why Dutch doctors and hospitals follow guidelines on limiting the application of antibiotics, and that approach works. Compared to other countries, antibiotics prescriptions in the Dutch health care system are relatively modest."
The problem is that the guidelines do not apply to animal breeders on cattle, pig and chicken farms.
"On cattle farms, the quantity of antibiotics administered to the animals is ten times that of the human use countrywide. I'm not convinced that that is really necessary, and I think we should do the utmost to reduce the use," Dr Coutinho added.

Some 80 percent of cattle breeding farms and half the Dutch chicken farms have been infected with a strain of MRSA, the institute says. In 2008, there were over 1100 reports of infection, 400 more than in 2007.


Chairman Wyno Zwanenburg of the Dutch Pig Breeders' Union explained to NOS that pig farmers have made considerable advances in reducing the use of antibiotics. He pointed out that pigs are living in groups, necessitating group treatment, even if only a single animal has been infected.
One third of all cattle farmers are infected with MRSA, but the bacteria is only dangerous for people who are susceptible because of other illnesses or general ill health.


In an attempt to curb the use of antibiotics on farms, Agriculture Minister Tineke Verburg has ordered an investigation into the role of veterinary doctors. Vets generally act as their own dispensing chemists, selling the antibiotics to farmers.

The vets' umbrella organisation agrees that the use of antibiotics in cattle farms should be brought down, but adds that there are usually medical arguments in favour of their use.

Rob Kievit
Radio Netherlands


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