New report gives snapshot of the antimicrobial use on farms in Ireland

Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine recently published  the Ireland - One Health Report on Antimicrobial Use and Antimicrobial Resistance. 

This report provides for the first time a snapshot of the antimicrobial use (AMU) and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in both humans and food-producing animals in Ireland.  

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said “This timely report brings together data from both sectors to inform future policy decisions as to how best address the development and spread of AMR.”

The World Health Organisation defines antimicrobial resistance as the resistance of a micro-organism to an antimicrobial drug that was originally effective for treatment of infections caused by it.

A 6.7pc increase in the overall sales of veterinary antibiotics was recorded for the year 2016.

It is not known if this marks a true indication of increased use, or may be explained by other factors.

Fluctuations in annual sales within a range of plus or minus 5pc may occur, due to a variety of factors such as seasonal disease prevalence, changes in the size of the national herd or product held in the supply chain between years.

Currently, the available information on antibiotic use in food producing animals is based on sales and, as such, does not provide a breakdown of use by species and age-group of animals treated or the specific indication for treatment (at farm/herd level).

Ireland ranked 17th highest of 30 EU/EEA member states for antimicrobial use in animals (when measured in milligrams of active compound per estimated kilogram of animal biomass) in 2016.

Most animal antibiotic use in Ireland (66.6pc) is formulated as premixes or oral remedies, presumed to be predominantly used as in-feed or in-water medication for the intensive pig and poultry sectors.

The antimicrobials most commonly used in animals in Ireland (by weight) are:

  • Tetracyclines (39.9%)
  • Sulphonamides & Trimethoprim (20.7%)
  • Penicillins (20.4%)

The report notes that many of the antimicrobials used in the treatment of animals are the same drugs as those used in human medicine, albeit that approximately 88pc of veterinary drugs used in Ireland comprise older drug classes including penicillins, tetracyclines, potentiated sulphonamides and aminoglycosides.

Antimicrobials have been used widely in the treatment of animals since the 1950s and are universally accepted as being indispensable for treating animals.

The Report states that the use of antimicrobials in animals is a potentially important risk factor for the selection and dissemination of resistant microorganisms and determinants (i.e. bacterial genes) from animals to humans.

This risk arises via the consumption of produce (milk, eggs, honey, meat) from treated animals, but also from contact with treated animals themselves (be they companion animals or food-producing animals) as well as their environment.

"Although the relative contribution of resistance development within animal production systems is not quantified and is subject to debate, there is no doubt that antimicrobial resistant organisms are transmitted between animals and humans and it is now unquestioned that actions need to be taken within the agriculture sector to reduce the rate of resistance development overall.

"There is a need to safeguard the effectiveness of antimicrobials as a precious resource in both human healthcare and veterinary medicine through responsible use by all under the ‘One Health’ banner," it says.

Online Editors