In what was thought to be a world first, the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) announced this year a target date of 2030 for the country to no longer need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness.

“With sharply increasing levels of resistance to antibiotics worldwide, we want animals and, by extension, humans to enter the ‘post-antibiotic’ era as safely as possible,” said NZVA president Dr. Steve Merchant.

The need to tackle antibiotic resistance is widely accepted, even if opinions vary as to where efforts should be concentrated.

Few can deny that preserving antibiotics requires significant, and perhaps difficult, shifts in thinking and behavior, but there may be hitherto unconsidered additional benefits for livestock producers in further restricting use, in addition to preserving this important class of medicines.

Difficult route, positive end point

The association commissioned PwC to look at the impact of making the change, and the challenges and opportunities that may emerge, and PwC’s report has found that scientific innovations and reduced antibiotic use in livestock production could increase the value of the country’s exports – with the right approach.

Moreover, higher-value exports are part of the New Zealand government’s Business Growth Agenda, as is innovation in agriculture and related sciences, along with smarter ways to use natural resources, so meat and poultry producers and veterinarians ought to find the environment favorable for reaching the goal.

Future-proofing the supply chain

The report goes on to note that the most fundamental gain could be in “future-proofing” the supply chain to overseas markets, as antibiotic resistance is an emerging consumer issue that could change regulations in importing countries and affect market access.

New Zealand’s poultry industry has  been working with strict antibiotics guidelines for several years, and the country’s livestock sector is possibly in a better position than most to make the change, as New Zealand is already one of the world’s lowest users of veterinary antibiotics.

Key to this has been strict regulation, control by veterinarians of antibiotic prescriptions and dispensing, and extensive agricultural systems.

Nevertheless, as in other countries, resistant bacteria have emerged.

Bacteria isolated from New Zealand's poultry have one of the lowest rates of resistance of any country, yet this year, the local poultry industry reported the emergence of Campylobacter resistant to fluoroquinolones and tetracycline, having to issue statements rebutting press claims of the emergence of a “superbug.”

While the NZVA statement may appear daunting to some, the association’s Dr. Jenny Weston has assured livestock producers that veterinarians will continue to prescribe responsibly and administer antibiotics as required as part of an integrated disease control program.

And achieving the target will need all sectors to play their part.

“Veterinarians and everyone involved in livestock farming are responsible for improving disease-control programs and putting the focus on preventive health care so that we reduce, replace, and refine our use of antibiotics,” Weston added.