07 May 2020

Rational use of antibiotics in poultry production

uso racional antibióticos produção avícola


Héctor M. Cervantes

Diamond V

Content available in: Español (Spanish) Português (Portuguese (Brazil))

The problem of antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance is a global problem that affects all the inhabitants of the planet to a greater or lesser degree. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared it as the most serious problem facing humanity, since all use of antibiotics, whether in human or veterinary medicine, has the potential to generate resistance. The WHO has urged human and veterinary doctors around the world to work together to resolve this crisis under the auspices of the “One Health” plan. The International Office of Epizootics – OIE – published in November 2016 its strategy on antibiotic resistance and the prudent use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine and animal production.

Basic principles in the USA and Definition of antibiotic care

In January 2018, the American Veterinary Medical Association – AVMA – defined antibiotic care as “the actions that veterinarians take individually and as a profession to preserve the effectiveness and availability of antimicrobial drugs through conscious supervision and taking responsible medical decisions to protect animal, human and environmental health”.

Definitions of use

Currently, in the USA, the European Union –EU–, Australia, Canada, Japan and many other countries, the use of antibiotics of medical importance in order to improve the production parameters of flocks is prohibited or severely restricted. Consequently, the use of medically important antibiotics in these countries is only approved for the prevention, control or treatment of bird diseases.

Prevention / Prophylaxis

The administration of an antimicrobial to a group of animals of which none exhibit clinical signs of disease or diagnostic evidence of infection, when the transmission of existing but undiagnosed infections or the introduction of pathogens is anticipated based on history, clinical judgment or epidemiological knowledge.

Control / Metaphylaxis

Control is the use of antimicrobials to reduce the incidence of infectious disease in a population that already has some animals exhibiting clinical signs of disease or that already have diagnostic evidence of being infected.

Treatment / Therapeutic

This use assumes that animals with evidence of being sick can be distinguished and segregated from those healthy or without diagnostic evidence of infection to be treated; however, it is not feasible in species such as:

  • Chickens or turkeys for fattening
  • Laying hens
  • Breeding hens

It is important to define each of the uses of antibiotics in the practice of population veterinary medicine. AVMA has recently proposed a series of definitions.

Antibiotic care

Currently, programs sponsored by the WHO, the OIE and many government agencies in each country are being initiated for the judicious and responsible use of antibiotics among the medical and medical-veterinary professions with the aim of preserving the effectiveness of these essential tools to maintain both human and animal health.

Medical-veterinary organizations such as the AVMA and specialty groups in the different species such as the American Association of Avian Pathologists -AAAP- have developed their own basic principles of judicious and responsible use of antibiotics. In poultry farming, the AAAP developed; in collaboration with the AVMA, the following basic principles for the judicious and responsible use of antibiotics in poultry production.

Basic principles for the judicious and responsible use of antibiotics in poultry production

  1. Commit to the judicious management, use, and administration of antimicrobials.
  2. Promote health programs that prevent disease.
    1. Improve management systems, biosecurity and vaccination programs.
    2. Work with producers to adopt preventive and management measures that reduce the need to use antimicrobials – good management, hygiene, biosecurity, nutrition and vaccination.
    3. Offer alternative strategies to the use of antimicrobials to prevent and control diseases and improve the health, well-being and safety of edible products.
  3. Select and use antimicrobial agents carefully.
    1. Use evidence-based diagnostics to determine if the use of an antimicrobial agent is indicated.
    2. Make a selection with knowledge of the antimicrobial agent and the therapeutic regimen using the diagnostic laboratory – culture, isolation and antibiogram.
    3. Follow the existing guidelines and laws for the prescription and administration of antimicrobial agents via water and/or feed.
    4. If there are “Guidelines for the Judicious Therapeutic Use of Antimicrobials in Birds”, such as those published by the AVMA-AAAP, use them.
    5. Constantly evaluate the results of antimicrobial therapy.
  4. Evaluate antimicrobial use practices
    1. The prescription of antimicrobial agents by the poultry veterinarian should be in a process of continuous evaluation.
    2. Encourage the analysis and sharing of data regarding the use of antimicrobial agents to foster collaboration between the poultry industry, researchers and government authorities to verify current practices and encourage innovation in this area.
  5. Educate and generate knowledge.
    1. Provide resources and stimulate the development of knowledge in the management and administration of antimicrobials.
    2. Provide opportunities for continuing education for poultry veterinarians regarding antimicrobial use and possible alternatives.
    3. Continue to educate producers on handling, biosecurity and production practices that ensure the health, well-being and safety of products derived from birds.
    4. Continue to evaluate the principles of judicious use of antimicrobial agents in accordance with published scientific advances.
    5. Support research on the use of antimicrobial agents and resistance.
Classification of antibiotics according to their medical importance

In general, both the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the WHO agree on the classification of antibiotics in terms of their medical importance. Based on this, they have classified them into 4 categories: Based on this classification, many chicken-producing companies in the U.S. and other countries have voluntarily discontinued in-ovo injection with gentamicin – an aminoglycoside – of fertile eggs for chicken production, and in the case of ceftiofur, the FDA’s ban on “off-label” use of cephalosporins was also eliminated for in-ovo use.

Important differences

Labeling for chickens raised without antibiotics – in the US: ABF [“antibiotic-free”]; RWA [“raised without antibiotics”] or NAE [“no antibiotics ever”] varies between different countries and organizations worldwide. Ionophores are considered antibiotics in the United States, so they cannot be used as “raising chickens without antibiotics”. Furthermore, all chickens treated for disease outbreaks with antibiotics cannot be marketed as ‘raised without antibiotics’.

On the other hand, the EU does not consider it as an antibiotic as far as raising chickens without antibiotics is concerned and therefore they are allowed. Treatment of disease outbreaks with antibiotics is allowed in the EU for animal welfare reasons and birds can still be marketed as ‘farmed without antibiotics’.

The use of medically important antibiotics in all production animals will be increasingly scrutinized and verified to confirm that its use is exclusively for the purpose of preventing, controlling or treating susceptible diseases and under strict medical-veterinary supervision. The WHO has initiated programs worldwide to compile data on resistance development in pathogens and commensals in both humans and production animals.

Correlating the use of antibiotics with the development of resistance and its possible transmission to humans. All countries in the world have been called upon to participate and do their part, by eliminating the purchases of medically important antibiotics without a prescription, in both human and veterinary medicine and under the auspices of the “One Health” plan.
Responsible, careful and judicious management of antimicrobials by veterinarians involved in animal production will become increasingly critical and will require adherence to the principles of good administration and responsible use.






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