Livestock and its resistance to antibiotics

Antibiotics are essential in the treatment of infectious diseases both in human beings and animals. However, it has been shown that abusive use of antibiotics causes bacteria to mutate in response to the use of these drugs and to become antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics when their DNA mutates protecting them from the effects of the medicine or avoiding that it destroys them. These resistant bacteria can multiply themselves or transfer their resistance not only to their descendants but also to the genes that are responsible for the resistance of other bacteria with which these coexist.

The use of antibiotics in animal husbandry

To guarantee food security and the quality of food coming from livestock and to ensure the health and wellbeing of these animals, it is essential to use antibiotics.

In animal husbandry, antibiotics are used in two ways: for the treatment of bacterial infections (therapeutic use) and for preventing diseases (prophylactic use). The latter one is only recommended in exceptional situations.

In intensive animal husbandry, animals live under stress and are exposed to all kinds of residues so it is relatively easy that an infection turns into an epidemic outbreak. To avoid this type of problem, some farmers (especially from countries out of the European Union) add antibiotics to their feed, even if they are already healthy.

The problem with this activity is that this way the livestock is exposed to higher than necessary amounts of antibiotics. The fact of ignoring the recommended volumes of antibiotics and periods of suppression (time that must elapse from the time the drug is no longer administered to the animal until the animal or its products can be consumed by humans) makes the cattle act as a reservoir of resistant bacteria.

Doing this contributes to the spread of antibiotic resistance, as these bacteria can be transmitted from animals to humans through several channels:

    • Food.
    • Direct contact with these animals.
    • Environment

How can you make responsible use of antibiotics in livestock farming?

The WHO, the European Union, and the Spanish Agency for Medicine and Health Products recommend responsible use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, as well as going for more sustainable livestock farming.

For fighting against antibiotics resistance in animal husbandry and to increase the responsible use of medicines, 3 actions are suggested:

    • Surveillance of antibiotics and resistant bacteria. Identifying the type and the number of antibiotics that are being used for this kind of resistant bacteria and the frequency with which they are detected give us useful information from an epidemiological perspective. This will help to develop effective measures to stop the problem.
    • Promote the reduction in the use of antibiotics and their sustainable use in livestock farming Many governments have adopted control and action mechanisms to promote the sustainable use of antibiotics and have carried out training activities for the livestock sector and the development of guidelines for responsible use.
    • Disease prevention. To avoid the indiscriminate use of antibiotics, prevention on livestock farms must focus on improving hygiene, biosecurity, and feeding, boosting the animals’ immune systems, and implementing specific health plans.


Thanks to the monitoring of these actions and the plans and measures promoted by governments, the use of antibiotics in livestock farming has clearly decreased, but even so, at the international level, it is necessary to continue working and to maintain greater coordination at the legislative, surveillance and intervention levels.
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