How is antimicrobial resistance linked to animal welfare?
The misuse and overuse of antibiotics is driving up antimicrobial resistance - making these drugs less effective at treating infections.
Three-quarters of all the antibiotics used in the world are used in farming.
Factory farmed animals experience high levels of stress and crowded conditions that make them prone to disease and infection.
For decades, entire herds of animals without clinical disease signs have been given antibiotics to prevent these stressed animals getting sick.
In contrast, farm animals with higher welfare, including better housing and living conditions, are healthier and more robust, meaning antibiotics don’t need to be used routinely.
The problem of routine, irresponsible use of antibiotics in farming driving the development of antibiotics-resistant bacteria is acknowledged by the WHO, UN FAO, World Organisation for Animal Health and the European Commission.
“When you put animals in crowded, unsanitary conditions and use low-dose antibiotics for disease prevention, you set up a perfect incubator for spontaneous mutations in the DNA of the bacteria […] With more spontaneous mutations, the odds increase that one of those mutations will provide resistance to the antibiotic that’s present in the environment.” Robert Lawrence, a professor of environmental health at John Hopkins University
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi and/or parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines.
AMR already kills 700,000 people every year through drug-resistant infections
Predictions say that AMR could kill 10 million people per year by 2050
This would cost the global economy $60 to $100 trillion
Why does this matter to investors?
The overuse of antibiotics in intensive livestock production, and subsequent impacts on public health, present several risks.
Increasing awareness of this issue among policy-makers means there is a shift towards tighter regulation of antibiotic use in farmed animals. This will impact low-welfare farms the most, so investors should already be encouraging producers to improve welfare standards.
There is also the risk of reputational damage. Companies with inadequate policies and who continue to use group preventative antibiotics face increased scrutiny from civil society and the media and may experience negative campaigns.
What should investors do?
Investors should require meat, dairy and egg producers to meet the FARMS Responsible Minimum Standards across all species. A responsible use of antibiotics underpins the FARMS RMS.
Investors interested in further engaging companies on the issue of antibiotic overuse should also join our collective investor engagement, which is focused on getting 10 of the world’s most important animal protein producers to commit to transparent reporting of antibiotics use, a phase out of group preventative antibiotics use, and improvements in animal welfare.
inside the EU
There have been several European action plans to tackle routine antibiotic use in farming.
An EU ban on the prophylactic use of antibiotics in farm animals will come into effect in January 2022.
However, there is still currently a huge variation in the amount of antibiotics used between different farms and different countries.
In 2016 sales of antibiotics for veterinary use (in mg of active ingredients per kg of animal biomass) were 362.5mg/kg in Spain and 294.8mg/kg in Italy, compared to 52.7mg/kg in the Netherlands and 45mg/kg in the UK.
outside the EU
Outside the EU, it is still common to use antibiotics as a growth promotant.
This means that animals are given low doses of antibiotics not to control disease, but to change their gut bacteria and increase feed use efficiency and growth.
There is often low transparency regarding antibiotic use.
The OIE has developed a global database on the use of antimicrobial agents in animals, within the framework of the WHO’s Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance.
However, it only reports antibiotic use on a regional basis, not a country-by-country basis.