Estonian EU Council presidency to prioritise action to combat antimicrobial resistance

Written by Mark Eyskens & Rio Praaning Prawira Adiningrat on 12 July 2017 in Opinion

New Chinese research suggests feed additives can promote animal health and growth as well as or better than antibiotics.

At recent conference in the European Parliament, EU Health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis recognised the progress made in Norway where antibiotics used in fish farming have been reduced by 99 per cent | Photo credit: PA International Foundation

The work plan of the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union includes a major conference on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) and specific regulatory measures to step away from the brink of a global outbreak.

With at least 25,000 AMR deaths per year in the EU, regulatory action is required. The Estonian Presidency has noted the Belgian Government’s proposal to expand the Annex of Regulation (EC) 1831/2003 with a label claim for feed additives that can promote animal health and growth.

According to new Chinese research, currently tested feed additives are equal to, or better than, antibiotics particularly regarding animal gut health and performance. Belgian and Estonian sources assume that the adapted Regulation can be adopted before the end of 2017.


For the European Food Safety Authority, it will be critical to be able to evaluate health claims regarding animal health and growth adequately. According to Belgian senior civil servant Dr Diederik Standaert the Belgian proposal seeks to promote the rapid development of feed additive replacements that farmers can use to promote health and growth instead of antibiotics that create antimicrobial resistance.

At a conference in the European Parliament on 28 June 2017 Prof Dr Zhang Junmin, Director of the Institute of Animal Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and his colleague Prof Dr Chen Jilan presented test results comparing the use of antibiotics in husbandry with the use of non-antibiotic feed additives under a variety of circumstances.

They concluded that there is hardly any difference between the two; feed additives for piglets promote health and growth in the same way as antibiotics; in chicken, they even perform slightly better. Of course, further research is required but without regulatory support investments in such research will be difficult to obtain.

Knut Nesse, CEO of Nutreco, referred to large scale tests in Israel, Germany, and Canada demonstrating that the use of feed additives can help to dramatically reduce the need for antibiotics.

At the conference hosted. by European Parliament Environment Committee Chair Adina-Ioana Vălean (EPP, Rom), Vice Chair Pavel Poc (S&D, Cz), and ALDE group Industry, Research and Energy committee coordinator Fredrick Federley (Se), European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis referenced Europe’s 2006 ban on antibiotic growth promoters as an example of Europe’s commitment to combatting AMR.

However, both in the EU and globally, the use of antibiotics in husbandry grew and particularly in emerging economies continues to grow exponentially.

Andriukaitis therefore recognised the impressive progress made in Norway where antibiotics used in fish farming have been reduced by 99 per cent following the introduction of fish vaccination. Globally the use of antibiotics in fish farming is substantial with no alternatives in sight.

The dichotomy between the Norwegian and Chilean salmon industries highlights a world at a crossroads. Formerly a heavy user of antibiotics, in 2013 Norway produced 1.25 million tonnes of salmon using just 972 kg of antibiotics. By contrast, Chile produced 750,000 tonnes of salmon and used 450 tonnes of antibiotics.

"Research is slowly getting underway to identify non-antibiotic alternatives for terrestrial animals. Options such as probiotics, prebiotics, organic acids, and acid chains are being explored to identify products that promote animal health and growth"

Norwegian salmon fetches a higher price and is more popular. The different approaches to animal welfare are among the factors driving this contrast. To accomplish this change, Norway needed to research alternatives, reform its salmon industry, and inject large amounts of capital.

This was reflected by Pavel Poc who pleaded for stepped up EU-China cooperation to combat AMR.

The Chinese-European feed additives testing project in Beijing should be followed by further research and development so that also in fish farming the use of antibiotics can be replaced by feed additive alternatives. Consultations on this development between authorities and industries from Asia and the EU have recently started.

Should agricultural antibiotics consumption continue at its current rate, a 217 per cent increase can be expected by 2030 using 2010 as a baseline.

Research is slowly getting underway to identify non-antibiotic alternatives for terrestrial animals. Options such as probiotics, prebiotics, organic acids, and acid chains are being explored to identify products that promote animal health and growth.

The current and future R&D budgets – to be doubled after 2020 – must secure substantially higher investment.

About the author

Professor Mark Eyskens, is a former Prime Minister of Belgium and Chairman of PA International

Rio Praaning Prawira Adiningrat is Secretary General of the PA International Foundation

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