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Case Study: Antibiotics in Animal Production

A case study about antibiotics in animal production is presented.
Black and white diagram of bacteria
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Raising healthy and safe animals is a top priority for farmers and the veterinarians. However, the close proximity and density of animals at farms coupled with the potential for the rapid spread of disease has made the use of antibiotics necessary to maintain economic viability of their operations.


An antibiotic is a drug agent that either kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms. They play a key role in modern agriculture and livestock industries to ensure the health of farmed animals. Historically, antibiotics were used as growth promoters and to improve feed efficiency. However, as a result of the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria and the overall issue of antibiotic resistance, the European Union along with other regions have banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters since 2006.

Food Safety

Strict legislation is currently in place throughout the European Union and other regions to ensure that no contaminated food products are allowed to enter the food chain. Veterinarians and animal owners are required to ensure their production of animal products are drug free before they can be used as food. Drug withdrawal periods exist before treated animals, eggs or milk are used as food. This allows time for the drugs to completely leave the animals system.

However, the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry can contribute to the rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria (superbugs).

Antimicrobial Resistance

Antimicrobial resistance arises from the use of use of antibiotics to treat infections. As a result of normal genetic variation in bacterial populations, individual organisms carry mutations that render antibiotics ineffective. The mutated stain has a survival advantage. If large numbers of bacteria resistant to the antibiotic develop this leads to the development of “superbugs” which threatens effective prevention and treatment of an ever increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi in humans.

Microbial, human and ecosystem health require effective strategies to ensure antibiotic use in animal production does not contribute to the development of antimicrobial resistance.

What we would like you to do

The European Commission published a fact sheet on veterinary medical products and medicated feed. Please read the fact sheet here. If you want to find out more information on this topic, you can find additional information on the European Commission’s website. The link is in the “See Also” section below.

In the comments section below please discuss the importance of this new European legislation in the fight against microbial resistance.

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Farm to Fork: Sustainable Food Production in a Changing Environment

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