Sort & Cull

The Danish Experience With Animal Antibiotics

Urban C Lehner
By  Urban C Lehner , Editor Emeritus
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Something -- in this case antibiotic use in animal agriculture -- is rare in the state of Denmark. Or is it?

In 1999 Denmark banned the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth and prevent disease. Only therapeutic uses are allowed. So what has happened as a result? That's in dispute.

The Danish government publishes lots of relevant statistics but there's apparently more than one way to interpret them. Some of the differences are pointed out in this March 2012 piece (…) on

The dispute is worth noting because there's a bill in Congress that would turn the U.S. down the Danish road. FDA has announced new guidelines aimed at cutting the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth. But the guidelines are voluntary and they allow preventive applications, which proponents of the Danish way see as a major loophole.

I was reminded of this dispute when, in response to my blog post on the FDA guidelines (…) I received an email from a retired food-animal-production veterinarian. He wrote:

"Perhaps we could look at what happened in Denmark after they restricted antibiotic use. As I recall, antibiotic use went up because there was more usage for treating disease. Animal performance as measured by gain and death loss went down. The most astonishing result was an increase in salmonella resistant strains.

"This is a very brief and very simplified summation of a quite involved study but the general overall results are pretty clear. As you correctly pointed out the Centers for Disease Control now recognize that animal antibiotic use is not the big concern that it was once made to be. I wonder what the real motive is?"

There does seem to be agreement that the use of antibiotics to cure disease went up, but as the NPR article points out the statistics actually suggest overall use has gone down.

In the National Pork Producers Council's May/June 2010 Capital Pork Report, the NPPC president noted that Danish officials had concluded that antibiotic use in livestock and poultry production decreased after the ban, and there was a "major reduction in antibiotic resistance while animal production went up."

However, the NPPC article also said the Danish data indicated there was an increase in piglet deaths and a 110% increase in the use of antibiotics as cures. The article did not say that the increase in curative use was big enough that total antibiotic use rose.

NPR said Danish hog producers survived by changing their farming techniques -- weaning pigs later, picking more resilient breeds, reducing animal density and increasing airflow. This, the article said, increased their costs.

I'd welcome comment from anyone who has taken a first-hand look at the situation in Denmark -- or anyone else, for that matter.

Urban Lehner



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