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Questions and answers on the effects of the use of antibiotics in livestock farming

Updated BfR FAQ of 03 August 2016

When animals become sick, it can be necessary to treat them with drugs. Antibiotics may only be administered to food producing animals specifically when prescribed by a veterinarian.

Foods may only be marketed if they do not contain any residues which could impair consumer health. If antibiotics are used for their intended purpose in livestock farming, there are no subsequent harmful residues in foods, provided that the prescribed waiting times have been complied with. Thanks to strict regulations and controls, the health risk of consumers through the consumption of food is low where antibiotic residues are concerned.

The use of antibiotics in livestock farming favours the development of resistance and spread of bacteria with resistance. Antimicrobial resistance means that the pathogens are insensitive to certain antibiotics. It has not been possible up to now, however, to estimate the extent to which the use of antibiotics in livestock farming contributes towards the resistance problem in human medicine.

In the food production process, resistant bacteria from livestock farming can be transferred to foods such as meat and milk. Resistant pathogens can also be transfered to consumers through food, as well as through direct contact with livestock, and can trigger infections in humans under certain circumstances. When treatment is necessary and the administered antibiotic has no effect, infections with resistant bacteria can last longer or be more severe.

To prevent the further increase of resistance, the BfR is of the opinion that the use of antibiotics in livestock farming should be restricted to the absolute minimum level required for therapy. The focus here should be on measures which keep animals healthy so that treatment with antibiotics does not become necessary in the first place. A concept to minimise the use of antibiotics in livestock farming was legally established with the 16th amendment to the German Medicinal Products Act (AMG).



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Updated BfR FAQs
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