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Home / Livestock

Prudent use of antibiotics in farm animals

Since their discovery, antibiotics have played a pivotal role in modern medicine. However, the inappropriate and widespread use of antibiotics in animals has led to antibiotic residues being found in food sources of animal origin. Now, the growing threat of antibiotic resistance is being recognised as a major global public health problem.

The World Antibiotics Awareness Week (WAAW) marked every November, which is two months away, aims to increase global awareness on antibiotic use, and encourage best practices among the general public, animal and human health workers and policy makers, to minimise the growth and spread of antibiotic resistance and reduce antibiotic residues in livestock products.

Between 40 per cent and 80 per cent of antibiotics used in farm animals are classified unnecessary and/ or highly questionable.

A study done in Kenya by the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership (GARP) reported that up to 70 per cent of imported antibiotics are given to chickens, pigs and cows. It further showed that farmers give antibiotics to livestock to prevent them from getting sick. This inappropriate use of antibiotics in farming is currently coming under greater international consumers’ scrutiny and has led to major fast-food restaurants banning products with antibiotic residues within their supply chain.

Responsible use of antibiotics is essential in tackling the growing resistance. This can be done by putting proper policies and measures aimed at reducing the use of antibiotics on animals by promoting higher welfare production systems in livestock industry.

Such systems include good housing conditions, healthcare and promotion of natural animal behaviour. They should also provide for improved management biosecurity, hygiene sanitation, optimal animal husbandry, nutrition, genetics and use of preventative methods such as vaccination leading to improved animal health and welfare.

By eliminating the worst methods and practices of animal production such as use of cages, crowded conditions, poorly ventilated production units with wet bedding and inadequate feeding systems, animals shall be less stressed hence less likely to suffer illness, leading to less dependency on antibiotics.

Responsible use of antibiotics means that only sick animals should be treated. Self-medication of animals on the advice from other farmers, or by calling or visiting agrovet shops without the animal being physically examined to diagnose the actual problem is strongly discouraged.

Treatment should only be instituted after clinical examination of the affected animal by a competent and licensed veterinary practitioner and the offending organism being isolated and identified in a laboratory.

During treatment one should ensure that an animal gets a full recommended dose and that the withdrawal period is adhered to. The withdrawal period is when the products (milk, meat and eggs) from an animal on antibiotic treatment are not consumed. Failure to observe this results in detectable high levels of antibiotic residues in meat, milk and eggs which end up in the human food chain.

Antibiotics should never be used as growth promoters to enable animals to be kept in poor welfare conditions.

Use antibiotics responsibly.

This article has been adapted from the Animal Focus Magazine by The Kenya Veterinary Association

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