The use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals is decreasing, but additional investments are needed in the control of antimicrobial resistance

November 18/2019

The joint FINRES-Vet 2018 report published by the Finnish Food Authority, the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea and the University of Helsinki shows that the sales of antimicrobials used in food-producing animals has reduced in Finland in recent years.  The antimicrobial resistance situation among bacteria causing disease in animals only or causing disease in both animals and humans has remained relatively good. On the other hand, observations have also been made on increased resistance to antimicrobials.

The sales of antimicrobials intended for food-producing animals decreased by 18 per cent from 2014 to 2018.  This decrease can be seen both in the individually used injectables and in the orally administrated preparations. The sales of the Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials for human medicine, such as third-generation cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones, for animal medication have been very limited.

Compared to the European level, consumption of antimicrobials in food-producing animals has always been at a moderate level in Finland

In 2018, the total sales of antimicrobials intended for food-producing animals in relation to the number of these animals were lowest ever recorded in Finland.

The Finnish food-producing animals are mainly medicated individually. This practice differs from many European countries, where most of the antimicrobials for animals intended for food are administered to groups of animals in feed or drinking water. The moderate and correctly targeted use of antimicrobials in Finland, and  the labour invested in disease prevention are also reflected in the favourable resistance situation of bacteria isolated from food-producing animals.

The occurrence of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria pathogenic to animals from food-producing animals is low. Antimicrobial resistance was not detected at all or detected in very low numbers in the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria causing arthritis and tenosynovitis in broiler parents, in Pasteurella multocida bacteria causing bovine respiratory disease and among Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae bacteria causing swine pneumonia.

Some multiresistant isolates (bacteriaresistant to three or more antimicrobial classes) were detected among the animal-pathogenic bacteria. For example, in E. coli causing porcine enteritis resistance to several drugs used in the treatment is quite prevalent. On the other hand, the occurence of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria isolated from bovine respiratory disease is clearly lower, although resistance to penicillin among the second most common bovine respiratory pathogen, Mannheimia haemolytica, has increased in recent years.

The resistance level of bacteria that can be transmitted between animals and humans is at a relatively low level

Zoonotic bacteria, such as campylobacter and salmonella, can be transmitted to both animals and humans.

However, the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance in zoonotic bacteria s has mainly remained at a low level. In the 2010s, fluoroquinolone and tetracycline resistant campylobacter have been increasingly isolated from food-producing animals  in Finland. A similar phenomenon has been detected in other parts of Europe as well. About 25 per cent of the C. jejuni strains isolated from broilers in Finland in 2018 were resistant to fluoroquinolones.

Year 2018 was also exceptional as regards to Salmonella, sinceit was the first year when multiresistant Salmonella Kentucky ST198, earlier found in several European countries, was detected in Finland.

Continuous measures are needed to keep the resistance situation good even in the future

The development of resistance can be slowed down by reducing the need to use antimicrobials by means of improved biosafety, disease prevention and taking good care of animal welfare on farms. If antimicrobials are needed, the use of narrow-spectrum antimicrobial drugs, or medicines effective against a few bacterial species only, is recommended. Furthermore, the drugs should be administered following the Finnish recommendations on the use of antimicrobials in veterinary medicine.

The choice of the antimicrobial drug must be based on regular sampling for susceptibility testing. When animals need to be medicated repeatedly due to the same symptoms or it is necessary to administer medication to groups of animals, samples need to be taken at least once a year.

In addition, a sufficient number of samples need to be tested every year in order to gain knowledge of the farm-specific resistance situation as well as to conduct long-term monitoring.

Use of antimicrobials in companion animals has also decreased

The consumption of veterinary antimicrobial tablets for companion animals has reduced considerably in the 2010s. Particularly, the sales of first-generation cephalosporins and, in recent years, also the sales of aminopenicillins have decreased.

Read more about the joint FINRES-Vet 2018 report of the Finnish Food Authority, the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea and the University of Helsinki (in English)

Summary on FINRES-Vet 2018 (pdf) 

Further information on resistance results

Resistance of zoonotic bacteria:
Satu Olkkola, Senior Researcher
Antibiotics division
+358 50 492 9825

Suvi Nykäsenoja, Senior Researcher
Antibiotics division
+358 40 489 3447

Resistance of bacteria causing illnesses to animals:
Tarja Pohjanvirta, Head of Section
Kuopio and Oulu Bacterial Section
+358 44 720 1493

Resistance in companion animals:
Merja Rantala, Docent, Specialist in Veterinary Medicine (Infectious Animal Diseases)
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
+358 50 415 5482

Further information on consumption of antimicrobials:
Katariina Kivilahti-Mäntylä, Veterinarian
The Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea
+358 29 522 3354