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Animal protein production has been developing over the years. Such advances aim to offer ideal conditions for the development and productivity of animals, as well as a sustainable model of food production with less impact on the environment and on humans.
It is in this context that the debate on the rational use of antimicrobials enters — increasingly touched on with the resumption of in-person events in the poultry sector.
Used in poultry for the last 70 years, antimicrobials have become an effective tool to fight pathogens and increase the efficiency of animal production. So much so that it is not possible to dissociate the advances of modern poultry industry from the use of these drugs.
But, nowadays, the world is increasingly attuned to the One Health concept (one health among humans, animals and the environment). For this reason, there is a great concern about the use of antibiotics, aiming to preserve some molecules through preventive non-use and the prohibition of use as performance enhancers. This last measure is already in force in Europe, the USA and, more recently, in China.
This is a “natural path” through which national agribusinesses must also pass. After all, Brazil is a major consumer and exporter of animal protein, a reason that arouses the interest of entrepreneurs and technicians on how to produce food with the least possible use of antibiotics.
In this sense, how is it possible to take the first steps in the rational use of antimicrobials so as not to jeopardize human health, the environment, animal production and also productivity?
What are the alternatives in the face of management improvements? How to see the rational use of antimicrobials as an opportunity? This is what we are going to address in this article, which has the contribution of Bauer Alvarenga, Business Manager at Biocamp.
Antimicrobials: what you need to know
Antimicrobials are divided into nonspecific (antiseptics and disinfectants) and specific. Within this last group, there are antibiotics, those obtained from microorganisms, and chemotherapeutics, those obtained in an unnatural way and that present synthetic and semi-synthetic compounds.
All of them, in general, are used in the treatment of infectious diseases. They are therefore NOT poultry production villains.
“When we talk about the rational use of antimicrobials in animal production, at no time is it proposing not to use these drugs, but the way in which they are used”, says Bauer.
It means that, for the treatment of diseases in poultry, they are still (and will continue to be) essential. The main points of discussion are in the other two forms of use, which we will detail below:
The 3 main types of use of antimicrobials
In poultry production, antimicrobials have 3 main types of use:
1. Prophylactic (Preventive)
For possible disease control before its manifestation. It usually happens when the producer already has a history of flocks that got sick (at 35 days, for example) and starts to administer antimicrobials in a healthy flock (at 28 days) in order to avoid the disease. Dosage is the same as therapeutic.
To treat ongoing infections. It happens when the flock is already sick and the antimicrobials are administered in therapeutic dosage in the feed or in the drinking water to fight the existing pathogens.
3. Performance Enhancer (AMD)
To act on a part of the intestinal microbiota, which can cause inflammatory processes. Some antimicrobial molecules are used continuously in the feed, in low dosage, favoring the weight gain and the feed conversion rate of the chickens.
Red alert: resistant bacteria
The red alert regarding the use of antimicrobials came after the increase in cases of resistant or multi-resistant bacteria to this class of drugs. For this reason, agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) began to discuss the matter more rigorously, both in human and veterinary medicine. After all, these bacteria are selected through the use of antimicrobials in all processes involving humans and animals for food production.
“The risk of environmental contamination also receives great attention because, after being metabolized, these drugs are eliminated via feces and urine by the animals. And this could affect soil and water, negatively impacting the microbiota present in these ecosystems”, explains Bauer.
To have an idea, a study published in 2019 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicates that if nothing changes regarding the use of antimicrobials as performance enhancers (AMD), by 2050 there will be 10 million annual deaths and 10% losses.
As a result, Europe, the US and China have already banned the use of AMD — respectively in the years 2006, 2017 and 2021. In Brazil, 8 molecules are still allowed. The question is: how long?
How to rationalize the use of antimicrobials in poultry
If farms experience challenges with diverse Enterobacteriaceae and the consumer and the scientific community increasingly challenge poultry industry to work in a more rational way with antimicrobials, what is it possible to be done?
To assist in choosing the ideal antimicrobial for a clinical condition, the most correct thing is to respect the following criteria.
- Isolate and correctly identify the bacteria involved in the clinical picture;
- Evaluate the sensitivity of the main classes of antimicrobials, through the antibiogram;
- Define the desired spectrum of action (gram positive/negative or broad spectrum);
- Pay attention to the target action site of the drug (example: systemic action, enteric action, etc.);
- And pay close attention to the withdrawal period.
After completing these five points, use the ranking of importance of antibiotics for humans, published by the World Health Organization (WHO), to define the most efficient drug for the clinical picture, but which has the least importance for humans.
Afterwards, Bauer recommends doing the PDCA, which means:
P (Plan) | D (Do) | C (Check) | A (Act)
Applicable to all companies, this method helps to show in which points it is possible to improve. Whether adjusting management and processes, investing in new structures, reviewing vaccine, cleaning, disinfection, pest control and intestinal quality programs.
“It is important to consider that each company has its time and changes can be made gradually. They can start in a percentage of the production and/or in just one region. Listening to the technical team about the challenges that they face is critical throughout the process,” says Bauer.
The training of the technical team is also necessary to remove old habits and share new strategies, as well as readjust the Good Production Practices (GMP) whenever necessary.
The rational use of antimicrobials challenges us to produce food with the least possible use of these drugs. Mainly with regard to preventive use and as AMD. It is possible to count on a wide range of additives, which are considered effective substitutes for antimicrobials, with greater emphasis on those that modulate the intestinal microbiota, allowing the formation and maintenance of beneficial bacteria.
Probiotics: maintenance of the microbiota in eubiosis
The intestinal quality of chickens is directly related to the development of the animal. In other words: Healthy chickens have excellent intestinal quality. This is only possible due to the joint work of three systems – digestive, immune and central nervous – and the intestinal microbiota.
Therefore, knowing how to modulate the microbiota of production animals is the best way to achieve intestinal integrity, reduce diseases and, consequently, reduce the need to use antimicrobials as much as possible. A microbiota in eubiosis (balance) helps improve nutrient absorption, reduces intestinal inflammation, modulates the expression of inflammatory cytokines, and stimulates mucosal immunity.
For that purpose, it is important to start as early as possible, still in the hatchery, with early colonization of birds through the use of competitive exclusion probiotics or multiple lactic acid strains. Then, in order to maintain the balance of the microbiota, the continuous use of probiotics in the diet is recommended.
At the same time that, they positively modulate the microbiota, favoring the physiology and development of chickens, they also preserve the efficiency of antibiotics when they are needed. Added to adjustments in Good Production Practices and biosecurity, they are economically viable measures that allow food production respecting the One Health concept.
In order to follow this path, which is a worldwide trend, see in detail how a probiotic program can contribute. Biocamp specialists have experience in the field, understand the challenges of agribusiness and farms and bring suggestions that are in line with the reality of each company. Contact Biocamp!