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How Denmark Successfully Phased Out the Use of Antibiotics as Growth Promoters in Pig Production


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JL A (281)
Tuesday October 16, 2012, 8:38 am
In the News
Been There, 'Dane' That

Oct 15, 2012
Project: Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming

How Denmark Successfully Phased Out the Use of Antibiotics as Growth Promoters in Pig Production

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The Danes have done it again. Denmark is one of the largest pork exporting countries in the world, yet it has just reported (PDF) that total use of antibiotics for pig production in the country decreased 30 percent from 2010 to 2011. This announcement brings Denmark’s total antibiotic use down to 2001-2002 levels, a significant achievement considering that from 2002-2009 antibiotic use for treating sick animals rose 47 percent in the country. The reduction in antibiotic use is a substantial accomplishment for public health and shows how an industry can dramatically transform its practices with government and public support.

Here’s why it is so important: In human medicine, antibiotic use is generally confined to treatment of illness. But in many countries including the U.S., antibiotics are routinely given to healthy food animals on many industrial farms so they can grow faster while compensating for unsanitary conditions. These low doses of antibiotics kill off the weak bacteria, but leave dangerous, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that are increasingly threatening human health. In fact, since the 1970s, hundreds of scientific studies have found a link between the routine, non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in food animal production and the crisis of antibiotic resistance in humans.

Recognizing the potential for a health crisis, Denmark stopped the administration of antibiotics used for growth promotion (i.e., non-medical uses) in broiler chickens and young pigs (finishers) in 1998, and in baby pigs (weaners) in 1999. In Denmark today (PDF), all uses of antibiotics in food animals must be prescribed by a veterinarian. Additionally, farmers, veterinarians, and pharmacies must report the use and sale of antibiotics, and farm inspections are conducted regularly to ensure antibiotics are not being misused on the farm.

The new data show positive trends for public health, indicating that ending antibiotic misuse for animals positively impacts humans. The level of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in imported meat or poultry was higher than the levels found in Danish meat and poultry. What’s more, antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in people were much higher in cases where the person had a history of travel outside of Denmark.

Good for Hogs, Good for Business

Pigs in MudThe reduction of antibiotics use has not negatively impacted the Danish pork industry. The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries says, “In Denmark the termination of non-therapeutic use of antibiotics for growth promotion has not caused any negative impact on the animal production. The Danish animal food industry has continued to improve its productivity and to increase its output.” Swine production has increased, the pigs are healthier, and their mortality rates have not increased.

World-Traveling Superbugs: Global Action Needed

Superbugs don’t respect national borders and represent a global public health threat. Denmark is a successful model that the United States and other countries can draw upon to help guide the implementation of policies that stop the injudicious use of antibiotics in food animal production. Denmark’s experience demonstrates that such a move can benefit public health without harming the bottom line of farmers.

Sue Matheson (79)
Tuesday October 16, 2012, 8:47 am
go Denmark!

Giana Peranio - Paz (398)
Wednesday October 17, 2012, 2:01 am
Good for the Danes but when will America wise up?

Leslene Dunn (84)
Wednesday October 17, 2012, 2:25 am
Kudos to you Denmark - now we wait on the rest of the world to do the same.

natalie n (164)
Wednesday October 17, 2012, 3:14 am
fantastic news. they should make it a practise worldwide

Danuta W (1251)
Wednesday October 17, 2012, 3:41 am
thanks for sharing

Sam E M (0)
Wednesday October 17, 2012, 6:18 am
Great news and the Danish people can be proud. :)

JL A (281)
Wednesday October 17, 2012, 9:15 am
You are welcome Danuta. You cannot currently send a star to Giana because you have done so within the last week.

Louise G (1)
Wednesday October 17, 2012, 9:55 am
Good for the Danish! Nice to hear something positive.
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