Antibiotics

Our responsibility towards reducing the use of antibiotics.

We support agricultural producers in reducing their use of antibiotics. Our goal: to avoid antibiotics in animal husbandry wherever possible.

Antibiotics

The administration of antibiotics to livestock is subject to very strict statutory regulations.

In German livestock husbandry, antibiotics are only administered to animals for which a veterinarian has previously identified a veterinary indication. Supplementary feeding with antibiotics with goal of promoting growth has been banned in Germany since 2006.

Pork and beef from Tönnies is now almost free of antibiotic residue. In fact, 99.98 per cent of inhibitor tests are without complaint. This is verified by the several thousand samples taken every year as part of the official ante and post mortem checks and in the Tönnies Health Analytics Laboratory. In essence, this has also contributed to our reduction strategy which we pursue in collaboration with our agricultural producers and which we continue to drive ahead.

Nowadays, the problem is less of residues but rather of the development of antibiotic resistances. Most resistances develop in human medicine. However, animal production must also contribute to ensuring that resistances do not develop further. The use of antibiotics selects bacteria and pathogens that would benefit from the use of antibiotics over their competitors without resistance properties. These bacteria would thus multiply more quickly. With the increase in resistant germs, treatment with antibiotics will become ever more difficult and the antibiotics lose their effectiveness. This link applies to stock animals as well as people.

Thus for Tönnies: antibiotics play a role in the treatment of sick animals; however, they should be used as little as possible.

Dr. Gereon Schulze Althoff

Director of Quality Management and Veterinary Services

Jörg Altemeier

Director of Animal Protection Unit

Dr. Wilhelm Jaeger

Director of Agriculture Department

Important key figures

The QA Treatment Index shows how often, on average, antibiotics have been used at an agricultural company. It thus enables comparisons on the use of antibiotics between companies and over a longer period and is a management tool for farmers, veterinarians and consultants. The Treatment Index is calculated every quarter. More information on the Treatment Index and its calculation is available here.

Our actions

Together with agricultural consultants, in the 2010s Tönnies put into place a reduction strategy which aims to significantly reduce the administration of antibiotics. At the same time, more than 85,000 carcasses were sampled to create a transparent overview of the residue situation in our meat.

Our livestock avoids resistances through the targeted and purely therapeutic use of antibiotics. With pigs in particular, since 2014 it has been possible to reduce the use of antibiotics in Germany by more than 30 per cent. This is thanks to the team of farmers, veterinarians and everyone who cares for the husbandry of the pigs.

Table legend: summarised display of National Residue Control Plan for the pigs and cattle slaughtered in Germany by Tönnies in 2018

Our reduction strategy

We are taking a multi-layered approach to keeping the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry as low as possible.

Measure the use of antibiotics
To create a secure data base and recognise potential reductions, monitoring systems were developed between 2012 and 2014 to provide support to livestock owners:

QA antibiotics monitoring

A nationwide data basis on the use of antibiotics in agricultural companies is a prerequisite for optimising the use of antibiotics in livestock husbandry and thus reducing the risks of resistant germs. In QA Antibiotics Monitoring, the veterinarians ensure a reliable data basis by transferring the antibiotics prescriptions for pigs, poultry and cattle to the antibiotics database. The German authorities have also implemented their own database concept.

The evaluation of the data by QA enables veterinarians and livestock owners to compare the use of antibiotics for a company with the average of all companies in the QA system. If necessary, targeted actions can be introduced based on this information in order to reduce the use of antibiotics in the company.

With pig farming in particular, the use of antibiotics has fallen continuously since 2014. More information and the current figures are available here.

A consistent evaluation of the health findings for the animals in abattoirs, targeted feedback to the farmers and appropriate advice are other important components of the reduction strategy.

The following pilot programme with incentives for minimising antibiotics has also been developed by Tönnies:

Antibiotic minimisation with the Association of Slaughter Pig Producers in the Gütersloh region

Fattening of pigs starts from a weight of approx. 30 kg and ends at approx. 120 kg living weight. During this fattening phase, individual animal treatments are permitted. However, these animals then receive an ear mark provided by Tönnies so that they can be recognised in the slaughter process.

For safety reasons, the animals are tested for residues in a random sample via a blood test in the Tönnies Laboratory. Treated animals or cycles where group treatment was necessary are reported separately. With the pilot project, we are demonstrating the feasibility of antibiotic-minimised pig fattening.

Infobox on antibiotic-free fattening

Antibiotic-free rearing in the fattening phase of pigs (approx. 30-120 kg)

Separate examination, treatment and marking of sick animals with ear marks

Treated animals or cycles where group treatment was necessary are removed from the programme

Random inspections for antibiotics residue in our Health Analytics Laboratory

Exclusively companies from North Rhine-Westphalia

Official measures for reducing the use of antibiotics

As a result of the increasing resistance to antibiotics in Germany, the use of antibiotics is regulated and controlled by law. The aim is to avoid the formation of further antibiotic resistance. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture has established regulations for this. These include the German Antibiotic Reduction Strategy DART 2020 (in cooperation with the Federal Ministry for Health), the 16th Amendment to the German Pharmaceuticals Act, and a ‘benchmarking system’.

DART 2020 combines different measures for human and veterinary medicine into a single One Health Approach in order to reduce the use of antibiotics. In doing so, it pursues six goals:

  1. National and international development of the One Health Approach
  2. Early identification of resistance developments
  3. Preservation and improvement of treatment options
  4. Early interruption to infection chains and avoidance of infections
  5. Promotion of awareness and strengthening of competences
  6. Support for research and development

The goal of the amendment, which came into effect on 1 April 2014, is to reduce the use of antibiotics to the level required for treatment. Furthermore, the amendment also expands the powers of the responsible supervisory authorities of the federal states so that they can better fulfil their monitoring tasks.

The amendment includes the following actions:

Cattle, pig and poultry farmers must

  • submit to responsible authorities all data necessary for calculating the treatment frequency of the site,
  • compare their individual treatment frequency with the nationwide figures,
  • and, together with a veterinarian, take actions to minimise the use of antibiotics if the treatment frequency on the site is above the national maximum.

Responsible authorities can

  • direct sites that exceed the national figures to implement specific measures that may have a positive effect on the reduction of antibiotics and also further measures to minimise the use of antibiotics,
  • prescribe closure of the livestock farm in extreme cases,
  • provide farmers and veterinarians with additional data on the prescription and use of antibiotics,
  • and request data from other supervisory authorities, e.g. for animal protection and food hygiene, which prove a breach of legal prescriptions.

Further authorisations included in the Pharmaceuticals Act are

  • the binding character of rules for the use of particular antibiotics, e.g. oral administration,
  • restriction in the use of human ‘reserve antibiotics’ through restriction of the reclassification,
  • and the arrangement of a binding antibiogram, e.g. when changing an antibiotic.

The “Benchmarking System” comes from the 16th Amendment as a tool for reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock husbandry. Here the individual treatment frequency at a site is compared with figures on the national frequency. If a site exceeds 50 or 75 per cent of all recorded treatment frequencies, the livestock farmer, in cooperation with a veterinarian, must determine the reason for the increased use of antibiotics. On the strength of this, the farmer must implement reduction measures or provide a written action plan for reduction within four months of publication of the figures for the supervisory authorities responsible for the site. These measures must then be implemented immediately.

As a result of this ‘Benchmarking System’ and the associated reduction in treatment frequencies at sites, the national figures are also reduced. The ‘Benchmarking System’ is thus a dynamic system for minimising the use of antibiotics. It aims to constantly reduce the use of antibiotics at a national level to the minimum level required for treatment. This thus also reduces the development of antibiotic resistances.

Looking further ahead

Tönnies diligently supports the established antibiotics reduction measures. In addition, with our own antibiotic reduction strategy drafted with our own producers and several pilot projects we make a significant contribution to further reducing antibiotic use to only the necessary level. For this reason, we support our producers in reducing the use of antibiotics and thus help to reduce antibiotic resistance. It is reassuring that the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry has been falling for years. Together with our producers, veterinarians and supervisory bodies, we are on the right path.

Next goals

We continue to strive for improvement in animal health and reduction of antibiotic use, and we use our resources to support the farmers. In our pilot projects, we create incentives so that the farmer can deal with reducing antibiotics in pig fattening to the greatest extent possible.

At the same time, we work together with partners in the QA Prüfzeichen [Test Mark] and the dairy industry to find strategies for expanding the minimisation approaches for cattle. In fact, the use of antibiotics in this sector is already at a low level. However, during lactation in particular, blanket local applications are often administered for the udders.

Our goal is to further reduce the total quantity of antibiotics used and, at the same time, to increase the number of animals fattened without the administration of any antibiotics at all.

The expert

Questions on food safety to Dr. Gereon Schulze Althoff, Director of Quality Management and Veterinary Services at Tönnies

Some antibiotics are used both in veterinary medicine and in human medicine. In veterinary medicine, older active substance classes that have been in existence for many decades are often used.

In animal husbandry, antibiotics are only used by a veterinarian in accordance with a specific prescription. Both veterinarians and farmers may administer them.

Reserve antibiotics are mainly intended for use with particular indications, e.g. for infections caused by resistant bacteria. Because of their effectiveness thanks to new antibiotic agents against which bacteria are not yet resistant, they are particularly valuable in human medicine. The European Food Safety Authority considers antibiotics in the substance groups quinolone and 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporin for use as reserve antibiotics for animal medicine and recommends their restricted use.

Yes, however, only antibiotics from the substance groups quinolone and 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporin. Nonetheless, the use of reserve antibiotics is the exception in livestock husbandry. According to data from the Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, these antibiotics, which are particularly important in human medicine, only represent around 1 per cent of antibiotics used in animal husbandry. This includes the administration of antibiotics to domestic pets.

Multi-resistant germs are everywhere: in clinics, in water and wastewater, but also in and on foods. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment carries out independent research on the potential risk of different multi-resistant germs. See: www.bfr.bund.de

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Dr. Gereon Schulze Althoff

Director of Quality Management and Veterinary Services

Jörg Altemeier

Director of Animal Protection Unit

Dr. Wilhelm Jaeger

Director of Agriculture Department