Lot feeders leading antimicrobial stewardship

22 June 2018

Antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) programs are critical to the future success of Australia’s livestock sector in helping to protect access to key antibiotics to treat sick animals, facilitate ongoing consumer support and continue market access. 

These are among the key messages from Australian Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Mark Schipp, who has applauded the release of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Guidelines for the Australian Cattle Feedlot Industry.

The Australian Lot Feeders’ Association (ALFA), through Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), have invested grainfed levies to develop the AMS Guidelines to arm the industry with practical information on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and provide a framework to ensure appropriate use of antimicrobials.

Addressing a global issue

Antimicrobials (antibiotics) are a vital tool in both human and animal medicine. In Australian feedlots, antimicrobials play an indispensable role in helping manage the health and welfare of cattle.

Together with Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, Dr Schipp chairs the Australian Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.

Dr Schipp said the Australian feedlot industry is the first in the red meat sector to introduce AMS guidelines to address the global issue of AMR.

“The chicken egg, chicken meat and pig industries in Australia all have AMS programs in place, as either codes of practice or guidelines,” Dr Schipp said.

“Having the feedlot industry reach this point now, as a major player also, is obviously very important and we really welcome this – I strongly support the AMS Guidelines that have been released and the work that’s gone into their development.

“Australia is small producer but a large exporter so we’re very vulnerable to what’s occurring in global markets.

“We need to be able to demonstrate to consumers both within Australia and internationally that we’re following good practice in terms of antimicrobial use and good stewardship. Consumers are becoming more aware and active and more averse to any sort of risk,” Dr Schipp said.

Risks and opportunities

While the feedlot industry’s AMS Guidelines have been released for adoption on a voluntary basis, Dr Schipp said there are a number of significant risks if key stakeholders such as feedlot managers and consulting veterinarians don’t adopt the guidelines.

Resistance

“Firstly, there is a risk that AMR could develop. This would mean the antibiotics we’re currently using would become ineffective and put us in a position where we have animals that we’re unable to treat and would suffer the resulting animal health and welfare consequences,” Dr Schipp said.

“That might mean that certain forms of livestock agriculture become unviable.

Access

“Secondly, if we’re unable to demonstrate that we’ve got good AMS programs in place, there’s a risk the medical community will lobby to have our existing access to antibiotics taken away.

“We’ve had a number of leaders in the medical profession saying we should just simply not treat animals; that animals should simply be raised without antibiotics and if they get sick, they should be destroyed rather than be treated. So we need to demonstrate we’re part of the solution and not the problem, and we do that by having strong stewardship programs and strong public awareness programs,” Dr Schipp said.

Consumer choice

“I think there’s another risk and this is that beef is only one of the options on the menu, and if other sectors are able to demonstrate that their products are raised in a responsible way and the livestock sector is not able to demonstrate that, that will be just one more reason for consumers to move from one dietary choice to another.”

Markets

“There’s also the issue of loss of markets. If there’s any confusion, doubt or suspicion that antimicrobial use in feedlots or in Australian agriculture generally is not appropriate, then we’ll see that reflected in import requirements or commercial requirements.

“In Europe, we’re already seeing the introduction of draft legislation that would prohibit the prophylactic use of antibiotics. That would have significant implications in Australia because we often use antibiotics to prevent disease.

“We don’t wait for animals to get sick – we know when they’re likely to get sick, and under what conditions, and we use antibiotics under those circumstances. We need to keep demonstrating that we’re using them responsibly and in an appropriate way.”

Dr Schipp said it is essential that a team approach is taken to implementing AMS, as advocated in the new ALFA/MLA Guidelines.

“Last year, I wrote to all veterinarians and the Chief Medical Officer wrote to all medical practitioners, underlining the importance of stewardship,” Dr Schipp said.

“Whether you’re a parent taking a child to a doctor or you’re the owner of a pet taking it to a vet, or you’re running a feedlot and have a consulting veterinarian, you really need a team approach to judicious antimicrobial use and everybody needs to have a shared understanding of the importance of what AMS is. It can’t be driven by just one member in that partnership.”

Antimicrobial resistance in Australia

Despite growing global concern around AMR, Dr Schipp said Australia is well-placed to tackle the issue.

In 2015, an International Independent Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), chaired by Jim O’Neill – also known as the O’Neill Report – ranked Australia as the fifth lowest user of antibiotics in agriculture on a global measure.

“That ranking arises largely out of our favourable biosecurity status, our very low disease rates, our on-farm practices, extensive agriculture systems, good long-term controls over registration and use of antibiotics and a very actively engaged livestock production sector,” Dr Schipp said.

“For more than 30 years now we’ve had codes of practice around the use of antibiotics in the intensive animal industry sectors. All of these factors combined put Australia in a leading position, and largely without a heavy regulatory burden, so we’ve done it in a way that’s different to what is being carried out in Europe where they’re taking a very regulatory approach.

“The rates of antibiotics we’re using in Australia are a fraction of the rates that are being proposed as a global goal of Europe at the moment, so we’re very well placed.”

Dr Schipp said there were low levels of resistance to many of the antimicrobials used to treat common infections across Australia.

“Studies have been carried out in a number of industries including chicken meat, eggs, pork, cattle, and sheep, and they have fairly consistent results,” Dr Schipp said.

“Those results reflect the tight control we’ve got over registration and use and the work that’s been done over decades on stewardship by the livestock industries.

“We don’t have a lot of the common diseases seen overseas and we don’t put animals into barns for six months of the year through winter where they build up disease year-on-year. Having Australian livestock out in the open air and in a healthy, clean environment is one of our great advantages.

“We also have good traceability arrangements, good certification systems and linkages between industry and government so we can work together closely and effectively, which is not the case internationally.

“I think the great weakness we have in Australia at the moment is that we don’t have a national program for monitoring resistance and AMR is estimated to be contributing to the deaths of 700,000 people annually, globally.

“Most of our competitors and most of our contemporary countries have national programs to monitor the use of antibiotics and the resistance that results in livestock sectors.

“The work done in Australia has been a series of pilots or spot checks that are spaced years apart and make it very hard to compare from one study to another because they’re not carried out in a consistent way.

“We’re currently seeking to address that. There are a number of examples we’ve looked at internationally in terms of benchmarking and the proposal we’ll be bringing forward in the next few months aims to implement some of that global best practice.”

More information

To find out more about the Antimicrobial Stewardship Guidelines for the Australian Cattle Feedlot Industry, contact:
Dr. Joe McMeniman
Project Manager – Feedlot
Email Dr. Joe McMeniman

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