Irish livestock among lowest in EU for antibiotic use

Irish livestock has among the lowest antibiotics use in the EU, veterinarian Fergal Morris told the MSD Animal Health conference in Dublin.

Mr Morris, director of ruminant business with MSD Animal Health, said Irish agriculture is in a good position to deal with EU legislation restricting antibiotic use in food animals, due to be introduced over the next three years.

“A recent EU report shows that Ireland is near the bottom of the European league in the use of antibiotics in animals,” said Mr Morris. “Irish farmers use one-eighth the amount of antibiotics used by farmers in Spain on a per animal basis, which is the highest user of antibiotics in the EU.

“Farmers in Italy use seven times more antibiotics than their Irish counterparts while the average German farmer uses three times more than the average Irish producer.”

Mr Morris said that Ireland’s lower usage of antibiotics is a reflection of the country’s grass-based milk, beef and sheep farming and relatively low levels of intensive pig, as well as poultry, production.

“Even Ireland’s pig and poultry producers are much lower users of antibiotics than their EU counterparts,” he said. “This is due to the strict biosecurity policies which are used by producers combined with a big increase in recent years in vaccination of pigs and poultry to protect against the major disease threats.”

He referred to the strides across many EU countries to curb antibiotic use in farm animals. Dutch farmers have cut antibiotic use by more than 50% in the past seven years. However, overall EU antibiotic use is still around 50% higher than in Ireland.

“In the Netherlands and Belgium, use of critically important antibiotics has been cut by more than 90%,” said Mr Morris. “Critically important antibiotics are products such as third- and fourth-generation cephalosporin’s and fluoroquinolones, which are vital components in human medicine. A similar initiative on further reducing antibiotic use in Irish farming is also getting underway.”

The use of preventative vaccines has more than doubled in Ireland in the past decade, creating healthier animals which need less antibiotic intervention.


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