A world without antibiotics – is that a possibility? This question was at the centre of the first edition of the 2-day executive level VIV Summit in the Netherlands. Based on 6 challenges, some 250 attendees from 26 countries aound the world discussed a possible future without or with very little antibiotic use in the poultry industry.
“We need to produce poultry without using antibiotics or using fewer antibiotics. Everyone involved in our industry knows this, but no one knows exactly what to do about it. Just as with world peace, although everyone wants it, it is a constant struggle to get there,” said Peter Best, one of the discussion leaders at the Summit.
The efficacy of the wonder drug that became commercially available in the 1940s is under pressure and this puts lives at stake. “That said, drug-resistant bacteria are a fact of nature. It is inherent to the use of antibiotics,” states Peter Oostenbach from MSD Animal Health.
discussion that is centre stage today is some 50 years old. Half a century ago the scientific Swann report showed that the use of antibiotics as a growth promotor in feed posed such a risk of the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that it should be banned. Oostenbach: “Today we live in a world where this discussion isn’t fact-based anymore. It has become a politically/socially and far more emotionally charged argument.” His core message to the audience: “We have to avoid getting stuck in a rat race to zero use, because it is simply undesirable not to be able to treat sick animals. We have a shared responsibility, a holistic commitment to a continual improvement in the responsible use of the antibiotics that are available.”
Geert Janssens, head of the laboratory of animal nutrition at Ghent University: “Performance has a negative correlation to the immune system.”
The 6 challenges formulated at the Summit reflect this shared responsibility. From progress in breeding, hatchery practices, biosecurity and management on farm, alternative additives, animal welfare and sustainability to consumer issues – every part of the supply chain has to assume its share of responsibility and work together. “As an industry, we need a clear vision of where we are going and strong supply chains to deliver this,” according to Justin Sherrard, global strategist of Rabobank International. “We should focus more broadly, rather than focusing solely on delivering an antibiotic-free chicken. We must establish trust and build on reports to our consumers that tell them we do well in all the fields of reduction, welfare and sustainability.” In the end, the consumer has to be willing to pay for the extra efforts being made in industry. “We have to reveal the costs of these efforts.”
In the discussion, Peter Oostenbach from MSD (2nd from left) states that when a new antibiotic is developed, it no longer finds its way into animal husbandry.
Biosecurity: not just hygiene its also logistics
A large part of the VIV Summit focused on the sharing of knowledge. Best practices from different parts of the supply chain are key to reducing the use of antibiotics across the board. “Modern best practices in the West could make a huge difference in countries like China and India, where lots of antibiotics are still used,” says Lotte van de Ven of Vencomatic Group.
Jeroen Dewulf, full professor in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Ghent University, explained to the attendees at the Summit precisely what biosecurity entails and how this can be improved so that antibiotic use can be lowered. DeWulf: “Biosecurity entails more than just having the hygiene under control. It involves the logistics for the animals as well. It is also very difficult to quantify biosecurity (what is good and what is bad?).
At the University of Ghent in Belgium, we have therefore developed a quantitative tool to measure biosecurity at broiler farms and its relationship with technical performances and antimicrobial use. It is a scoring system for the internal and external biosecurity and it gives the farmer/veterinarian/advisor a good idea of what the current biosecurity status is and what the effects will be when things are improved. You can see it as a tool to support the advice given.” The tool has been made freely accessible. It is available for pigs and broilers and will soon be available for dairy cattle.
Sharing best practices with the audience will speed up their know-ledge of how to cope with fewer antibiotics.
Poultry gut health and the reduction of antibiotics
One of the most critical control points for reducing the use of antibiotics is the performance of the chicken’s gut. “Impaired gut health is the main reason antibiotics are used,” says Geert Janssens of Ghent University. “We know that selection on growth performance has a negative correlation to the immune system. You can go in 1 of 2 directions with that knowledge: scale down growth performance or focus more on the immune system and the processes that modulate the immune system.”
Adriaan Smulders, species technology manager & additives lead at Cargill Premix and Nutrition EMEA, explained that the early feeding of chicks is very important to aiming for a reduction in antibiotics throughout the poultry production chain. Smulders: “It is very important to get the feed and the water directly to the chicks when they have been hatched. When this is done, the gut and immunity of the animals is boosted and the first microflora can be formed.”
Yet there is no single answer in the race to use fewer antibiotics. Christian Lückstädt: “There is no silver bullet, but a balanced gut will help to maintain the chickens’ health. We know that many feed additives and good management practices support gut health.” Using all of these things is what makes the difference.