Utrecht University: Possible ban on antibiotics for animals

Antibiotic resistance is an important and global problem. The irresponsible and excessive use of antibiotics in both people and animals is leading to an increase in the number of resistant bacteria. We know that a small proportion of resistant bacteria that arise in animals can also transfer to humans, for instance through cuddling your dog, cat or horse. Dutch research has shown that the transfer of resistant bacteria from animals to humans occurs much less frequently than was formerly assumed, and the consequences of antibiotic resistance in people in the Netherlands are also still very limited. In order to maintain this relatively favourable situation, it’s important for antibiotics to be used in people and animals as restrictively as possible.

Harmonised approach in European Union
The Netherlands is one of the pioneers of this approach to – and hence reduction of – antibiotics use in animals. As a result, not only has the use of antibiotics in animals fallen by 70%; the number of resistant bacteria in animals has dropped as well. Other countries too are devoting ever more attention to this issue, and in January 2019, new EU regulations were issued. These regulations provide for a harmonised approach in the European Union. The basic principle is responsible and restrictive use of antibiotics in animals. This means that the preventive use of antibiotics (aimed at preventing diseases) will be limited and all Member States are obliged to chart the use of all antibiotics in animals. In addition, experts in the fields of human and veterinary health care have come together to classify antibiotics on the basis of their importance for public health. This classification designates a number of antibiotics that may only be used for humans and no longer for animals. With respect to some other ‘critical’ antibiotics, it is now advised that these only be used for animals subject to strict conditions. This classification ensures that both doctors and vets have sufficient effective options to treat bacterial infections in their patients.

The motion now drafted by Martin Häusling of the European Greens, and which the European Parliament will be voting on next week, aims to go much further than the new EU regulations by banning the use of all ‘critical’ antibiotics in all animal species. This means that vets will no longer be able to provide the care needed by sick animals. This compromises animal welfare and animal health. It’s a motion with major consequences for your faithful pet.

Els Broens external link, veterinary microbiologist, Utrecht University
Marc Bonten, Professor of Molecular Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, UMC Utrecht
Inge van Geijlswijk external link, hospital pharmacist-clinical pharmacologist, Utrecht University
Jobke van Hout, senior researcher and veterinarian, Royal GD, Deventer
Merel Langelaar external link, Professor of Policy and Impact in Veterinary Medicine, Utrecht University
Jan Kluytmans, Professor of Epidemiology of Healthcare-Related Infections, UMC Utrecht
Dik Mevius, Professor Emeritus of Antimicrobial Resistance, Utrecht University
Andreas Voss, Professor of Infection Prevention, Radboud University Medical Centre, Nijmegen
Jaap Wagenaar external link, Professor of Clinical Infectiology, Utrecht University