How does the antimicrobials minimisation concept in livestock farming work?

With the entry into force of the 16th amendment of the German Drug Act, a “benchmarking system” was established as an instrument for the minimisation of antimicrobial use in livestock farming. The system is based on a comparison of the farm-specific treatment frequency with the nationwide indicators of treatment frequency. This comparison is carried out separately according to livestock species and age groups.

What is the basic idea of the antimicrobial’s minimisation concept?

Livestock farmers have to compare their farm-specific treatment frequency to the nationwide indicators. If a farm’s treatment frequency exceeds indicator 1 or indicator 2, the livestock keeper must consult with a veterinarian to identify the cause. The root-cause analysis may result in measures that the livestock keeper must take to reduce the use of antimicrobials on their farm.

By lowering the farm-specific treatment frequency, the nationwide indicators calculated on that basis decrease. This means that it is a dynamic system for antimicrobial minimisation. The aim is to continuously reduce the use of active substances throughout Germany to the therapeutically necessary minimum, thus reducing the development of antimicrobial resistance.

The nationwide indicators are calculated twice a year, in March and September, by the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) and are published in the Federal Gazette.

Which holdings have to report therapy frequency indicators? Who do they have to report to?

Holdings of a certain size that keep cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys for fattening have to report data on the number of animals and their use of antimicrobials to the competent supervisory authorities of the federal states (click here for more information on the size of holdings).

Holdings keeping dairy cows or laying hens are excluded from the reporting requirement.

How can we recognise whether the treatment frequency in Germany is decreasing?

Simply put: if fewer antimicrobials are used in livestock farming, the farm-specific treatment frequencies will decrease and with that the nationwide indicators will also decrease over time. A reasonably long reporting period and a reliable reporting routine are requirements for the validity of the indicators.

The holdings have been reporting their data since 2014; on that basis, the indicators on therapy frequency have been calculated twice a year. There have been six reporting periods to date. With regard to the indicator development to date, it can be said that the use of antibiotics in all animal species has decreased during this time period.

How is the farm-specific therapy frequency calculated?

The farm-specific therapy frequency is calculated as follows

= (number of animals treated x number of treatment days) / average number of animals kept per half year

The farm-specific therapy frequency therefore takes the following elements into account: :

  • the fewer animals treated and/or treatment days, the smaller the indicator at a constant total number of animals;
  • the number of animals treated and the number of treatment days is in proportion to the total number of animals.

Further information on this matter has been published in the Federal Gazette.

What is the indicator 1 that is used for all fattening animal species?

Indicator 1 is the median, i.e. the value below which 50 percent of all recorded therapy frequencies lie.

If the farm-specific value lies between the median and the third quartile, the animal keeper, together with the veterinarian attending the animals, must determine the cause for the increased use of antibiotics and take measures for reduction.

What is the indicator 2 that is used for all production animals?

Indicator 2 is the third quartile, i.e. the value under which 75 percent of all recorded therapy frequencies lie.

If the farm-specific therapy frequency lies above the third quartile, the animal keeper must, within four months of the publication of the indicators, present to the competent supervisory authority a set of reduction measures in writing. The authority evaluates the action plan and may call for additional measures, if necessary.

What do the nationwide therapy frequency indicators not do?

It is not possible, based on the treatment frequency indicators, to make any statement about the average number of treatment days per animal and half year. Additionally, they do not allow the treatment frequencies to be compared between the individual animal and production species.

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