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← The urgent case for antibiotic-free animals

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Showing Revision 11 created 01/07/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. There was a time
    when simple infections were deadly,
  2. but now, thanks to the wide
    availability of antibiotics,
  3. this is merely a relic of the past.
  4. But actually, I should say "was,"
  5. because nowadays,
    we're using antibiotics so much
  6. that the bacteria
    that cause these infections
  7. are becoming resistant.
  8. And that should really scare
    the hell out of all of us.
  9. If we do not change our behavior
    and wean ourselves off antibiotics,

  10. the UN predicts that by 2050,
  11. antimicrobial resistance
    will become our single biggest killer.
  12. So we must start to act.
  13. But "where to begin"
    is an interesting question,
  14. because we humans are not
    the only ones using antibiotics.
  15. Worldwide, 50 to 80 percent
    of all antibiotics are used by animals.
  16. Not all of these are critical
    for human health,
  17. but if we do not get it
    under control right now,
  18. we're looking at a very scary future
    for humans and animals alike.
  19. To begin, let's talk
    about how we ended up here.

  20. The first large-scale use of antibiotics
    was in the early '50s of the last century.
  21. In the Western world,
    prosperity was increasing
  22. and people wanted to eat
    more animal protein.
  23. When animals were sick,
    you could now treat them with antibiotics
  24. so they did not die and kept growing.
  25. But soon, it was discovered
  26. that adding small and regular amounts
    of antibiotics to the feed
  27. kept the animals healthy,
  28. made them grow faster
  29. and caused them to need less feed.
  30. So these antibiotics worked well --
  31. really well, actually.
  32. And with increasing animal production,
  33. also antibiotic use skyrocketed worldwide.
  34. Unfortunately,
    so did antibiotic resistance.
  35. The reason your doctor tells you
    to finish the entire bottle of antibiotics

  36. is if you shorten your dose,
    you will not kill all of the bugs.
  37. And the ones that stick around
    build up the antibiotic resistance.
  38. It's the same problem with giving animals
    small and regular doses of antibiotics:
  39. some bad bugs die but not all of them.
  40. Spread that across an entire industry,
  41. and you can understand
    that we accidentally build up
  42. a large reservoir
    of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  43. But I hate to break it to you --

  44. the problem doesn't stop there.
  45. You know who else takes antibiotics?
  46. Fluffy, your cat, and Rover, your dog.
  47. (Laughter)

  48. Pets rank even amongst
    the heaviest users of all,

  49. and they use antibiotics
  50. that are much more critical
    for human health.
  51. Combine this with how close
    we live with our companion animals
  52. and you understand the risk
  53. of you picking up antibiotic-resistant
    bacteria from your own pet.
  54. But how do these
    antibiotic-resistant bacteria

  55. in farm animals affect you?
  56. Let me give you an example
    we have, actually, data on.
  57. The levels of antibiotic-resistant
    salmonella in pigs in Europe
  58. against different types of antibiotics
  59. range from less than a percent
    to as high [as] 60 percent.
  60. Which means that in most cases,
  61. this antibiotic will not work anymore
    to kill this salmonella.
  62. And there was a high correlation
  63. between antibiotic-resistant
    salmonella in the pig
  64. and in the final product.
  65. Whether that is pork chop,
  66. spare ribs or minced meat.
  67. Now, luckily, typically
    less than one percent

  68. of all raw meat, fish or eggs
  69. will contain salmonella.
  70. And this only poses a risk
    when not treated well.
  71. Still, there are over 100,000
    human salmonella cases in the EU
  72. and more than a million cases in the US.
  73. In the US, leading
    to 23,000 hospitalizations
  74. and 450 people dead each year.
  75. With antibiotic-resistant
    salmonella on the rise,
  76. this death toll is likely to increase.
  77. But it's not only
    about consuming yourself.

  78. This year, more
    than 100 people got infected
  79. with a multidrug-resistant salmonella
  80. after feeding pig ears,
    as a treat, to their dog.
  81. So we really must cut back
    on antibiotic use in animal production.
  82. And luckily, this is starting to happen.
  83. The EU was the first region to ban

  84. putting antibiotics
    in low doses in the feed.
  85. From '99 on, in several steps,
  86. the amount of different types
    of antibiotics allowed was reduced,
  87. and in 2006, a complete ban
    went into place.
  88. Antibiotics were only allowed
  89. when a veterinarian determined
    the animal was sick.
  90. Sounds great, right?

  91. Problem solved.
  92. No, wait, not so fast.
  93. As soon as the reduction program started,
  94. it was very quickly discovered
  95. that antibiotics had been
    the perfect blanket
  96. to cover up a lot of bad farm practices.
  97. More and more animals became sick
  98. and needed to be
    cured with ... antibiotics.
  99. So instead of the total amount going down,
  100. it actually increased.
  101. Surely, that was not the way to go.
  102. But luckily, that was not
    the end of the story.
  103. The whole European agricultural sector
    started on a journey,
  104. and I think it's a journey
    anybody can learn from.
  105. This is also the time
    I personally entered the scene.

  106. I joined a large European feed compounder.
  107. A feed compounder makes a total diet
    for a farmer to feed to his animals
  108. and often also provides the advice
  109. on how to raise the animals
    in the best way.
  110. I was really motivated
    to work together with my colleagues,
  111. veterinarians and, of course, the farmers
  112. to figure out how to keep the animals
    healthy and antibiotic-free.
  113. Now there are three major things
    that need to happen

  114. for antibiotic-free production.
  115. Let me walk you through the playbook.
  116. To start -- and it sounds very obvious --
  117. that our hygiene is the place to start.
  118. Better cleaning of the stable
    and the drinking-water lines
  119. making it harder for the disease
    to come in and spread across the stable.
  120. That's all very important,
  121. but the part I was personally
    most interested in
  122. was better feeding for the animals,
  123. better nutrition.
  124. Feeding a well-balanced diet is important.

  125. Think about it this way:
  126. when you yourself do not eat
    enough fiber, you do not feel well.
  127. Part of the food you consume
    is not digested by yourself
  128. but fermented in your large
    intestine by bacteria.
  129. So you're feeding those microbes
    with part of your diet.
  130. Initially, most young animals
    were fed low-fiber,
  131. high-starch and protein,
  132. very finely ground
    and highly digestible diets.
  133. Like being yourself on a diet
    of hamburger buns,
  134. rice, waffles and protein bars.
  135. We changed this to a lower-protein,
  136. higher-fiber, coarser type of diet.
  137. Like being on a diet of whole grains,
    salad with meat or beans.
  138. This shifted the bacterial flora
    in the animals' guts
  139. to the more beneficial ones
  140. and reduced the chance
    that pathogens would flourish.
  141. You might be surprised

  142. but not only diet composition,
    also diet structure plays a role.
  143. Simply the fact
    that the same diet is coarser
  144. will lead to a better-developed
    digestive tract,
  145. and thus, a healthier animal.
  146. But the best part was that farmers
    started to buy this actually, too.

  147. Unlike some other parts of the world,
  148. Western European farmers mainly still make
    their independent buying decisions:
  149. who to buy the feed from
    and sell their animals to.
  150. So what you're actually selling in the end
  151. reflects the actual local need
    of these farmers.
  152. For example,
  153. the protein content in piglet diets
  154. in countries that are much more vigilant
    in reducing antibiotics,
  155. like, for example,
    Germany and the Netherlands,
  156. were already 10 to 15 percent lower
  157. than in a country like the UK,
    which was slower to pick this up.
  158. But, like with better hygiene,
    better nutrition helps

  159. but will not totally prevent you
    from becoming sick.
  160. So more is needed.
  161. And that's why we turned
    to the microbiome.
  162. Making the water with the feed more acidic
  163. helps to create an environment
  164. that benefits the more beneficial bacteria
  165. and inhibits the pathogens.
  166. Like fermented food,
  167. whether it's yogurt, sauerkraut or salami,
  168. they'll all spoil less quickly, too.
  169. Now, with modern techniques,

  170. like the ones based on DNA testing,
  171. we can see that there are many more
    different microorganisms present.
  172. And this ecosystem,
    which we call the microbiome,
  173. is much more complex.
  174. Turns out there are about eight times
    more microorganisms in your gut
  175. as tissue cells in your body.
  176. And for animals, the impact is no less.
  177. So if we want to work
    without antibiotics in animal production,
  178. we have to make the animals
    much more robust.
  179. So that when a disease strikes,
  180. the animals are much more resilient.
  181. And this three-pronged
    nutribiosis approach
  182. involving the host, nutrition
    and the microbiome
  183. is the way to do it.
  184. Now the practice of raising animals
    on an antibiotic-containing

  185. or antibiotic-use-provoking diet
    is a bit cheaper at farm level.
  186. But in the end, we are talking about
    a few percent at the consumer level.
  187. That's actually quite affordable
  188. for the middle- and high-income
    part of the world population.
  189. And a very small price to pay
  190. when our own health
    or our loved ones' health is at stake.
  191. So what do you think,
    what direction do we take?

  192. Do we allow antimicrobial resistance
    to become our biggest killer,
  193. at huge financial
    and a special personal cost?
  194. Or do we, besides reducing
    human antibiotic consumption,
  195. truly start embracing
    antibiotic-free animal production?
  196. For me, the choice is very obvious.
  197. But to make this happen,
  198. we have to set reduction targets
  199. and make sure that they're followed
    all around the world.
  200. Because farmers compete with each other.
  201. And at a country level,
  202. trading block or the global market,
  203. costs are very important.
  204. And also, we have to be realistic.
  205. Farmers need to have the possibilities
  206. to invest more in better
    management and better feed
  207. in order to achieve this reduction.
  208. And besides legal limits,
    the market can play a role,
  209. by offering antibiotic-reduced
    or antibiotic-free products.
  210. And with growing consumer awareness,
  211. these market forces
    will increase in power.
  212. Now everything I've been talking about
    seems to be great for us.

  213. But what about the animals?
  214. Now, guess what,
    their lives get better, too.
  215. Better health, less stress, happier life.
  216. So now you know.
  217. We have the knowledge
    how to produce meat, eggs and milk
  218. without or with very low
    amounts of antibiotics,
  219. and I'll argue it's a small price to pay
  220. to avoid a future
    in which bacterial infections
  221. again become our biggest killer.
  222. Thank you.

  223. (Applause)