Limiting Antibiotic Usage in Livestock Agriculture

January 7th 2016

Limiting Antibiotic Usage in Livestock Agriculture

By Andrew, R Bourne & Dr. Rubinah Chowdhary

antibiotic-usage-in-livestock-agricultureLast month, the UK government confirmed that three isolated cases of bacteria resistant to the antibiotic ‘of last resort’ (Colistin) had been found in UK pig farms.  Consumer concerns over antibiotic residues has led to the story being widely reported in mainstream news media with varying degrees of sensationalism.

The issue of antibiotic resistance has been unfolding for several years, alongside the continuing investigations of European Union Member State governments.  A year ago, the first joint report between the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency concluded that while its investigations were limited, there was cause for concern due to a positive association between consumption of antibiotics and the corresponding resistance in bacteria[1].

A freedom of Information (FoI) request by the Soil Association: Alliance to Save our Antibiotics found 837kg of Colistin was made available to British farms in 2014[2].  In 2012 approximately 7982 tonnes of antibiotics were used throughout the EU, with 447.4 tonnes used in the UK alone1

The use of intensive farming methods necessary for economic viability create the perfect environment for the rapid proliferation of bacterial populations.  This coupled with routine low level prophylactic administration of antibiotics to animals, spillage of medicated feed, and incomplete courses of medication, are all conducive for antibiotic resistant bacteria becoming established on the farm[3].  Intervention to remedy the impact of such infections in livestock is costly to farmers both in terms of time and finances.

Routine non-illness related antibiotic treatment in livestock farming is of increasing concern.  Meat for human consumption which is tainted with low level antibiotics or resistant organisms also impacts on human health.  While the overlap between the classes of antibiotics used in livestock and those used in healthcare is small[4], antibiotic resistance related to the livestock sector poses serious problems when it comes to treating human infections with the limited number of effective antibiotics available to us.

Well tested disinfectants are an essential part of biosecurity on any livestock agriculture installation.  Unlike antibiotics, the effectiveness of disinfectant actives is not restricted to bacteria.  Disinfectants tend to be active over a broad spectrum of disease causing agents, including viruses and fungi.  The reduction of bacterial levels livestock are exposed to in housing, is readily and safely achieved through disinfection.  Antibiotic resistant bacteria are also destroyed by correct use of carefully selected disinfectants[5].  Reduction of bacterial loads is also beneficial in supporting the effectiveness of vaccination programmes for protecting against other diseases[6].  This is particularly important for the control of viral diseases, which have a huge ongoing economic impact on the industry. 

Quat-Chem Ltd. manufacturers a range of environmentally friendly, antimicrobial disinfectants.  Products are targeted to specific applications for a complete hygiene programme on the farm, including products effective in the presence of organic matter.  Use of effective antimicrobial disinfectants such as these manufactured by Quat-Chem can reduce the need for antibiotic use, as well as reduce the amount of bacteria in the presence of antibiotics.

We strongly urge our farming customers to take a ‘prevention over cure’ approach.  This means treating biosecurity with the highest importance in order to avoid overuse of antibiotics, safeguard livestock, increase profits, and maintain the reputation of the farm.

For more advice and information about biosecurity or about choosing a disinfectant contact us now.


[1] ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control), EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and EMA (European Medicines Agency). ECDC/EFSA/EMA first joint report on the integrated analysis of the consumption of antimicrobial agents and occurrence of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria from humans and food-producing animals. Stockholm/Parma/London: ECDC/EFSA/EMA, 2015. EFSA Journal 2015;13(1):4006, 114 pp. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2015.4006

[2] Soil Association (2015) First found in China, resistance to ‘last resort’ antibiotic now found in pigs and humans in England and Wales, 21 Dec 2015,

[3] Zhu, YG, Johnson, T.A., Su, JQ, Qiao, M., Guo, GX, Stedfeld, R.D., Hasham, S.A. & Tedje, J.M. (2012) Diverse and abundant antibiotic resistance genes in Chinese swine farms, Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America, Vol. 110, No. 9, 3435-3440

[4] Dr. Richard Raymond, Former Undersecretary of Food Safety at US Department of Agriculture (USDA), quoted in Food Insight (2015) Setting the Story Straight on “Human Antibiotics” in Animals: Expert Q&A, 17 Nov 2015,

[5] Rutala, W.A., Stiegel, M.M., Sarubbi, F.A. & Weber, D.J. (1997) Susceptibility of antibiotic-susceptible and antibiotic-resistant hospital bacteria to disinfectants, Infect. Control Hosp. Epidemiol., June 1997;18(6):417-21

[6] Davies, R. & Breslin, M. (2003) Effects of vaccination and other preventative methods for Salmonella enteritidis on commercial laying chicken farms, The Veterinay Record, 2003, 153(22):673-677

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