Prudent Use of Antibiotics on Farm Animals

By Dr. Victor Yamo

Since their discovery, antibiotics have played a pivotal role in modern medicine. However, the inappropriate and widespread use of antibiotics in animals and humans has led to antibiotic residues being found in foods of animal origin. Now, the growing threat of antibiotic resistance is being widely recognised as a major global public health problem.

The World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW) marked every November, aims to increase global awareness on antibiotic use, and encourage best practices among the general public, animal & human health workers and policy makers, to minimize the growth and spread of antibiotic resistance and reduce antibiotic residues in livestock products.

Between 40 and 80 per cent of antibiotics used on farm animals are classified as unnecessary and/or highly questionable. A study done in Kenya by the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership (GARP) reported that up to 70 per cent of the imported antibiotics are given to chickens, pigs and cows. It further showed that some farmers give antibiotics to their livestock to prevent them from getting sick. This inappropriate use of antibiotics in farming is currently coming under greater international consumer scrutiny and has led to major fast-food restaurants banning products with antibiotic residues within their supply chain.

World Animal Protection believes that responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals is essential in tackling the growing resistance. By putting proper policies and measures aimed at reducing the use of antibiotics on animals by promoting higher welfare production systems in the livestock industry.

Such systems should include good housing conditions, health care and the promotion of natural animal behaviour. They should also provide for improved management, biosecurity, hygiene, sanitation, optimal animal husbandry, nutrition, genetics and use of preventive methods such as vaccination, leading to improved animal health and welfare.

By eliminating the worst methods and practices of animal production such as the use of cages, crowded or barren conditions, poorly ventilated production units with wet beddings and inadequate feeding systems, animals shall be less stressed hence less likely to suffer illness, leading to less dependency on antibiotics.

Responsible use of antibiotics means that animals should only be treated when sick. Self-medication of animals on the advice from other farmers, or by calling or visiting agrovet shops without the animal being physically examined to diagnose the actual problem, should be strongly discouraged.


Treatment should only be instituted after clinical examination of the affected animal(s) by a competent and licensed veterinary practitioner and the offending organism being isolated and identified in a laboratory.  During treatment ensure that the animal gets the full recommended dose and that the withdrawal period is adhered to. The withdrawal period is when the products (milk, eggs and meat) from the animal on antibiotic treatment are not consumed. Failure to observe this results in detectable high levels of antibiotic residues in the meat, milk and eggs which end up in the human food chain.

Antibiotics should never be used as growth promoters, or on routine basis (including repeated prophylactic use), to enable animals to be kept in poor welfare conditions.

We are also concerned about the generally poor level of regulation of antibiotics in animal production and veterinary use. The veterinary profession must play a key role in ensuring that antibiotics are used responsibly and following laid down international guidelines to safeguard animal health and welfare.

We urge the government, the animal production industry players and different sectors of society, especially farmers and veterinarians, to ensure that the health and welfare of the animals is adequately catered for. This will result in improved production, product quality and food safety, which will lead to better food security and livelihoods.

Dr. Yamo works at World Animal Protection – Africa Office and is also the Council Chairman of Kenya Veterinary Association

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