19 Dec 2022
With the holiday season fast approaching, many of us are looking forward to enjoying a traditional meal with family – featuring the crown jewel: Turkey.
Turkeys have gone from a lean 6kg in the 1930s to a current average of almost 15kg. While, in large part, this change has been thanks to selective breeding programs – a key role goes to the use of antibiotics. And intensive use, at that: in a major market in 2020, turkeys received twice more antibiotics than cattle per kg bodyweight, and nearly 10-times more than poultry .
Worldwide, an estimated 73 percent of all medically important antibiotics are sold for livestock use rather than for people, and just three countries are thought to account for 60 percent of these livestock sales: China (45 percent), Brazil (8 percent), and the United States (7 percent). According to experts, antibiotics are largely used to make animals grow more quickly. After all, a healthy animal gains weight more quickly than a diseased one.
Unfortunately this approach drives overuse of antibiotics and hence widespread antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – when bacteria to evolve the ability to withstand antibiotic treatment.
Many countries have recognised this threat to public health, with Europe taking the lead on initiatives for change in the farming industry. In 2006, the European Commission banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and in 2009, the European Medicines Agency standardized the collection and reporting of data on the sales and use of livestock antibiotics. Meanwhile in the US, the FDA banned the use of growth promotion antibiotics in 2017.
Shockingly, a recent report on the intensity of antibiotic use in US livestock found that, since the 2017 laws came into place, the sector has used antibiotics more intensely, not less. In fact, the intensity of antibiotic use in U.S. livestock production as a whole was 5.5 percent higher in 2020 than in 2017, 12 percent higher in turkeys. Turkeys in the US are receiving 474mg of antibiotics per kg, compared to 241mg/kg in cattle and 41mg/kg in chickens.
Animal welfare is important – and antibiotics help to provide it. But it would be potentially catastrophic if they were to lose their effectiveness through overuse.
At Lixa, we believe that change is on the horizon. New approaches to disease detection and prevention, animal housing and welfare improvements are being developed and investigated by the top animal health companies. With new nonantibiotic solutions in development (including antibiofilms like our own NeoX-401), the ability to heavily reduce antibiotic use in livestock is becoming a reality.
 Van Boeckel et al., “Reducing Antimicrobial Use”; Katie Tiseo et al., “Global Trends in Antimicrobial Use in Food Animals From 2017 to 2030,” Antibiotics 9, no. 12 (2020): 918, https://doi.org/10.3390/antibiotics9120918