Eat less meat to cut drug resistance, says study

Dyna Rochmyaningsih
Jakarta – Cutting meat consumption is one of three strategies that an international team of scientists recommends to tackle the rising problem of antibiotic resistance stemming from abundant use in animal farming.In a study published in the journal Science in September, the scientists also recommend caps on antibiotic use and levying user fees on buyers of farm antibiotics which would effectively make it more expensive and discourage excessive use.
About 80 percent of all antibiotics are consumed by farm animals. Farmers resort to antibiotics, generally administered through animal feed or low-dose injections, to improve nutrition and hygiene for their livestock. However, the drugs turn farm animals into major sources of antibiotic resistance, according to the study.
In September 2016, the UN General Assembly highlighted the urgency of limiting antibiotic use in animal farms which is the leading cause of drug resistance. The global consumption of antibiotics by food animals, estimated at 131,109 tonnes in 2013, is projected to reach 200,235 tonnes by 2030.
According to Ramanan Laxminarayan, an author of the study and director of the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy, Washington, while some countries are already making efforts to decrease the use of antibiotics on animal farms, the results are yet to be assessed.
China, the largest consumer of farm antibiotics, has advised its citizens to cut meat consumption to 40 – 70 grams per person per day or about half of the current consumption. For comparison, the United States consume a very high 260 grams of meat per person per day. Europe has enforced capping regulations and the World Bank has proposed a ‘user fee’ to be imposed on those buying antibiotics for farm animals.
According to the study, limiting per capita meat intake to 40 grams/person/day could result in reduction of antimicrobial use in animal farms by 66 per cent, while enforcing caps on antibiotic usage could result in a 64 per cent reduction. The user-fee strategy could also decrease antibiotic use by 30 per cent.
“We find that a combination of these three strategies could decrease the use of antimicrobials in animal farms by 80 per cent,” says Laxminarayan. “I think that inertia is our biggest challenge — maybe people will adopt these strategies when things get really worse.”
Riana Arief, director, Centre for Indonesian Veterinary Analytical Studies, points to the Indonesian agriculture ministry’s recent regulation prohibiting the use of antibiotics as feed additives. “Controlling antibiotic use is possible through regulation, strong enforcement and good surveillance,” she says.
Arief, however, thinks that limiting meat consumption and user-fee strategies may not work in countries with very low per capita meat consumption like Indonesia. Meat consumption in the country is still far below global standards and government policy is to boost meat production. Also, smallholders who rely on costly imported feed will be hit if a user fee is imposed, she says.
(This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.)