Antimicrobials in poultry: what is at stake?

Benjamín Ruiz analyses the recent statement issued by the International Egg Commission on the use of antimicrobials in the poultry industry.

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Photo by Benjamín Ruiz
Photo by Benjamín Ruiz

The International Egg Commission (IEC) has just made its formal and official statement on the use of antimicrobials in laying hens for the long-term, safe production of eggs and egg products. The IEC emphasized biosecurity and good livestock practices as the main tools for disease prevention.

I find this a moderate position, in line with international organizations, such as the One Health concept of the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). There is no questioning (in the press release announcing the statement) on issues as to how strong or true is the resistance to antimicrobials or what will be the effects on production, animal health and cost to the consumer.

There are several voices that do not agree with the elimination of antibiotics in livestock production. Sometimes I think the elimination of antibiotics is confused with the responsible use of them. Hence the labels of "no antibiotics ever" that already are on some products and state precisely what the consumer, informed or not, wants to see.

All this, however, leads us to reflect on:

  • whether or not we are using antimicrobials in excess,
  • if we are solving -- or we are actually masking -- problems in poultry production,
  • if we are hitting a raw nerve on the biosecurity of remote poultry farms, as well as those that are already close to urban areas and
  • if we are carrying out good livestock practices.

The One Health approach is not a bad idea. It is about implementing programs, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work for a better global public health. Globally!

But the poultry industry should not forget to communicate things as they are, including the need to use antibiotics when needed. Nor should we forget the anthropomorphism that continuously lurks in the animal production activities. One thing does not invalidate the other.

What do you think?

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