Antibiotic-free goal ‘realistic’
New Zealand farming is well on the way to becoming antibiotic free except in emergency cases, the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) says.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) this week called on farmers to stop using antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals, because the practice fuels dangerous drug-resistant superbug infections in people.
The NZVA has a goal for New Zealand agriculture to be antibiotic free by 2030, and said it is the third lowest user of antibiotics in animals among the 34 countries of the OECD. Norway and Iceland were ahead of New Zealand.
‘‘It’s an aspirational goal. It’s big. But this is an enormous issue facing us, New Zealand’s veterinarians want to do their part to reduce our dependency on these critical medicines and preserve their use for as long as possible,’’ NZVA chief executive Mark Ward said.
Federated Farmers science spokesman Guy Wigley said farmers supported the goal and viewed it as realistic.
‘‘New Zealand already is a very low consumer of antibiotics for livestock. They aren’t used on a routine basis, although they can be used if you have sick animals.’’
Wigley is chiefly a cropping farmer but he has 200 sheep. He never uses antibiotics, but recalls when he had a larger flock in the past he would adminis- ter them to ewes which had problems in lambing.
The most recent statistics of antibiotic use in agriculture and horticulture is a Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) report showing sales between 2011-14.
It said there were four classes of antibiotic of critical importance to human medicine, and all of these classes had increased significantly in sales. Macrolide sales rose by 25 per cent, fluoroquinolones (18 per cent), aminoglycosides (34 per cent) and the third generation cephalosporin ceftiofur (55 per cent).
The pig, poultry and dairy cattle industries were responsible for the greatest use because of intensive farming practices compared to sheep and beef cattle farming, and a higher biomass in the case of cattle.
TheWHOsaid in some countries up to 80 per cent of antibiotics were used to stop animals from getting sick and to speed up growth.
NZVA chief veterinary officer Helen Beattie said it was partly about reducing the volume, but also about making sure people were making ‘‘good choices’ when they used antibiotics critically important for human health.
‘‘We are already well below the target level set internationally but we are saying we could do better.’’
Beattie said some of the same antibiotics important for human health were also used on animals. The keys to finding solutions to antibiotic resistance were alternative policies and lateral thinking.
Between 2011-14, sales of antibiotics in poultry increased by 13 per cent, likely to be mostly attributable to the 11 per cent increase in the poultry population.
The poultry industry’s chief use of antibiotics is Zinc bacitracin, which is contained within feed to prevent the death of whole flocks, but it is not a medicine critical to human health.
Beattie said it was important that hens were kept healthy. ‘‘But in the future we need to consider differences in management and husbandry practices, development of vaccines or different methods of keeping birds healthy which may mean there will be less need for use of prophylactic antibiotics.’’
New Zealand veterinarians are pressing to stop the routine use of antibiotics in livestock, especially those critical for human health.