Health

Background

Brazil reduces antibiotics inside and outside pig farms

Many countries around the globe are implementing a policy towards reducing the use of antibiotics. Especially when larger countries manage to curb use substantially, it makes a big difference. Where is Brazil in this process?

The use of antibiotic growth promoters in Brazil’s pig sector has led to an increase in regulations and awareness programmes, especially in the last two decades. Yet there is still a long way to go to achieve total prohibition and zero application of these practices among farmers.

The topic is complex because, for many years, the continuous use of antibiotics had been one of the main tools to prevent diseases and enhance performance, and a large portion of swine producers would need to change their entire business model if antibiotics were to be phased out.

Peace and quiet in a lactation barn on a farm in Paraná state. - Photo: Vincent ter Beek
Peace and quiet in a lactation barn on a farm in Paraná state. - Photo: Vincent ter Beek

Guidelines and demands

Nevertheless, Brazil’s producers aim to adhere to all guidelines laid out by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), as well as observe the demands from buyers both domestically and abroad. The country has been progressing to meet the highest and newest standards in this area.

There are two paths to do so, and both are occurring simultaneously. The first is happening outside the pig farms, through the role played by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) and the Brazilian Association of Pig Producers (ABCS). The second path is what is actually happening onsite with producers, in a country that is larger than the entire European continent (Russia not included).

Outside the pig farms

MAPA and ABCS are committed to promoting the rational use of antibiotic products, by preparing farmers and raising their awareness about the “One Health” concept, which emphasises the link between human and animal health with regards to antimicrobial resistance.

Brazil’s National Action Plan is aimed at further reducing the country’s dependence on antibiotics in pig production. - Photo: Vincent ter Beek
Brazil’s National Action Plan is aimed at further reducing the country’s dependence on antibiotics in pig production. - Photo: Vincent ter Beek

Suzana Bresslau, chief of the MAPA’s veterinary medicines division, argues that antibiotics are a global public good, and preserving their effectiveness is crucial to minimise the impacts of antimicrobial resistance, which is currently one of the most important world public health problems.

She says, “The responsible usage of antimicrobials in animals follows strict rules in Brazil, and it is also worth noting the recommendations of the OIE on discontinuation of antibiotics for improving animal performance that are of medical importance.”

Thus, the ministry has pushed for veterinarian prescription only when it is necessary; respect for prescribed dosage, treatment and withdrawal periods; registered antimicrobials and distributors; and good management, vaccination and hygiene practices.

National Action Plan

She says that, since 1998, Brazil has been progressively banning the use of several substances or classes of antimicrobials as performance-enhancing additives for animals (see also Box).

In addition, MAPA, in cooperation with sector representatives, has set out a National Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Antimicrobial Resistance in 2018. That statement highlights several guidelines to practices like rational use of antimicrobials, the strengthening of good practices, sanitary and biosafety management and control of infections in animal health.

Weaner pigs on a farm in Paraná state, Brazil. - Photo: Vincent ter Beek
Weaner pigs on a farm in Paraná state, Brazil. - Photo: Vincent ter Beek

Moreover, the plan aims to foster continued training for animal health professionals, encourage the development of preventive protocols, monitor antibiotic usage, establish regulatory strategies and update current legislation regarding the advertising of veterinary antimicrobials.

Bresslau explains, “Those activities also involve producers, especially regarding reducing the need for antimicrobials in animals, by strengthening good practices and promoting the implementation of sanitary and biosecurity management to prevent and control infections in animal health.”

Actors in the animal protein chain

Different actors in the animal protein production chain are involved, for instance the Federal Council of Veterinary Medicine and ABCS. Charli Ludtke, technical director at ABCS, says, “We are working together with producers and MAPA to make this transition in the short, medium and long term and achieve the plan’s objectives.”

She emphasises awareness and understanding on the subject among farmers and other entities through communication, education and training to reduce the incidence of infections as the first step to increasingly optimise the use of antimicrobials.

Structuring activities

In line with the National Action Plan, the first cycle of “structuring activities” has been developed since 2018; this initiative will be finished by 2022. The agenda includes lectures, online courses, webinars and development of the manual Rational Use of Antibiotics, Biosafety and Animal Welfare: A Vision Applied to Swine, which will be launched in the course of 2021.

Ludtke adds, “The publication will bring specific protocols for responsible usage of antimicrobials in swine farming, as well as alternatives such as eubiotic substitutes (organic acids, probiotics, prebiotics, essential oils, minerals and others), vaccination plans, improvement of animal welfare inside farms and biosecurity.”

One-day old piglets on a farm site in Bahia state, Brazil. - Photo: Daniel Azevedo
One-day old piglets on a farm site in Bahia state, Brazil. - Photo: Daniel Azevedo

ABCS understands the issue requires an integrative approach that implies working together with all players in the sector. She concludes, “The current national status is still in transition, but we have effective actions that can really have results at a national level. Brazil’s pig industry already includes many farms that have replaced their practices and have good rates of productivity.”

Inside the pig houses

Researcher Mauricio Dutra wrote his PhD thesis on antimicrobial use in swine production. One part of the study was presented in 2019 and includes data from all over the world as well as field research in Brazilian farms in 2017.

From the 18,100 farms in the country, the research included 25 farms and evaluated the use of 11 types of antibiotics per animal weight group. The results shows an average of 358.4µg/kg of live pig. The smallest number was 5.4µg and the highest 585.6µg. In other words, there are extremely different realities regarding practices inside pig houses.

Dutra comments, “The study shows that systems with up to 172µg/kg have higher production per sow per year. These ones achieved above 3.2 tonnes of meat per sow, while ones that use more than 344µg achieve just 2.7 tonnes. In other words, productiveness depends on whole systems, not exclusively on antibiotics.”

Most often used molecules

Among the 25 most productive systems, 72% do use and 28% do not use antimicrobials preventively at nursery phase in the piglets. The most often used molecules, for example, are ceftiofur (40%), amoxicillin (24%) and gentamicin (16%). The field research also pointed to increased microbial resistance, as 80% of those farms were positive for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Dutra adds, “There is a scientific consensus about effective alternatives for producers, instead of increasing antimicrobial usage. A group of 111 experts from Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland created a checklist, and the top three priorities are internal biosecurity, vaccination protocol and feeding.”

A global picture

Interestingly, Dutra’s data also take a look across the borders. In 2015, the world’s total animal consumption of feed reached 960 million tonnes, while antibiotic usage reached 63,500 tonnes. The breakdown of those figures can be seen in Table 1.

Quoting other authors, Dutra’s study projects that by 2030, a global average of 172µg/kg of live animal, Finally, the main consumers will be China (30,000 tonnes), US (10,000 tonnes), Brazil (8,500 tonnes), India (4,200 tonnes) and Mexico (2,100 tonnes), with the greatest percentage increases taking place in Africa and Asia.

Chronology of antibiotic bans in Brazil

2003
Chloramphenicol and nitrofurans banned for manufacturing, processing, commercialisation, import and use of active ingredients.
2004
Olaquindox was banned for manufacturing, import, sale and use as a growth-promoting additive in food-producing animals.
2005
Carbadox prohibited for manufacture, import, sale and use in products for animal feed.
2009
Amphenicols, tetracyclines, β-lactams (penicillins, benzylpenicillins and cephalosporins), quinolones and systemic sulphonamides prohibited as performance-improving zootechnical additives or as pet food preservatives.
2012
Spiramycin and erythromycin prohibited for import, manufacture and use as additives to improve animal performance feed.
2016
Colistin prohibited for import and manufacture as a performance-enhancing additive in animal feed.
2020
Tylosin, lincomycin and tiamulin prohibited for import, manufacture, sale and use as performance-enhancing additives for animals.