Antibiotics!!! Do we need them?

Antibiotics - Do the livestock need them

Ever wondered why antibiotics are good, bad or evil? Well if you need an orientation session with the use and misuse of antibiotics, this is your space to read.

We all know definitions are important, so here we go. For a technically sound person the word ‘Antibiotics’ are agents which work against microorganisms. To put it into lay man perspective, these are substances/compounds which kill or slow down the growth of harmful bacteria, fungi or similar bugs that thrive on other living or dead things.  By the end of that “Layman term” explanation we would have understood that there isn’t a layman term for antibiotics and you don’t have to Einstein or for that matter Sheldon your way (Courtesy big bang theory) to understand the science behind antibiotics.

To make things clearer lets classify them into four practical categories (Oh I would love to classify them into seven different ways so that you need to classify the classification types to complicate matters, but this not what we intend to graduate in).

  • Chemically – Molecular structures (Beta lactams, Quinones, Aminoglycosides……)
  • Target microorganisms (Antibacterial, Anti-fungal, Anti protozoal… )
  • Mechanism of action(Cell wall, enzyme, DNA….)
  • Evolutionary ( 1st generation, 2nd gen, New world )

Use of Antibiotics in the feed industry

Firstly not all antibiotics those are used as feed additives for animals and used in humans for treatment. The importance of this fact is rivaling many issues on banning of antibiotics as feed additives.  We will touch base with this statement again when we deal with the statement of antibiotic resistance. In the livestock industry antibiotics are used primarily for three reasons

  1. Treatment of bacterial, fungal and other infectious diseases.
  2. Prevention of infections , as a precautionary in feed compulsion.
  • Growth promotion,to improve final body weight of birds raised for meat.

Many antibiotics used in treatment of livestock used for meat purpose are the same antibiotics used in humans. These include a major share of quinolones. Although the figures below in the table reflect otherwise one should also consider that these antibiotics given under the treatment regime are given for a small 4 or 5 day schedule and often used in very small quantities. If proper withdrawal periods are used these antibiotics are excreted from the body of the animal well before slaughter. The table below shows us the volume compartmentalisation of antibiotic use.

Use by volume Humans Animal
Pencilins 44 % 6 %
Cephalasporins 15% 1%
Sulfa 14% 3%
Quinolones 9% less than 1%
Macrolides 5% 4%
Tetracyclines 4% 41%
Ionophores 0% 30%

In the next blog we learn more about antibiotic resistance and how it impacts us …

Anti Antibiotics – The Way Ahead

Anti Antibiotics – The Way AheadFor years together Livestock has been an in separable part of humanity. The cheapest and most readily available source of protein.  The methods of rearing livestock have evolved in leaps; this is clearly evident in case of the poultry industry. The word broiler is now taken as Cobb or Ross and to keep up with the protein deficit of the world new strains are being introduced to cultivate meat faster and in an efficient way.

In this process several mechanisms have been devised to improve the bird, the environment or the final product. This introduces us to fields of Breeder genetics, Nutrigenomics, Housing, Management, Bio-security, Carcass traits, Packaging, Logistics and shelf life, all of which try to improve the profitability and the product quality.

The market is full of different feed additives working on the aspects latter to genetic improvement in breeders. For years antibiotics and specifically antibacterial have been used on a large scale to kick up revenues and cover up management flaws. Pumping in these drugs at these rates has resulted in the pathogenic bacteria being destroyed but also leads to the whole gastrointestinal micro floral balance instability. The era of misuse of antibiotics began. There are several views, as the use of antibiotics in livestock being good or bad. There are several reasons not to use antibiotics in livestock, the primary not being the antibiotic resistance but yes an important reason. Thus, apart from the common facts that using antibiotics may cause parallel resistance affecting human treatment regimes, it is also important for us to understand the foot print that antibiotics leave on the animal world.

The Livestock production arena is an amalgamation of bacterial opportunistic propagation driven entities. The race is already on between the eradication of these bacteria versus survival responses of these highly adaptive microbes. This is especially when we throw a cocktail of antibiotics on them. Every time zapping a bug with a new bullet does end the life of the bug, but also helps the bug to evolve a better armor, one that is non penetrable by the same bullet.  But why are we focusing on the bullet and not on the gun? Something that the bug may not even see, something that the bug is never exposed to!! The ideal route for restricting the excessive use of antibiotics is thus to improve the management practices on the farm which include impeccable bio-security. As this is not possible in all circumstances the use of anti-infective and growth promoters will always be used as a preventive and a treatment regime for under performing birds. However, we can always use a better trigger mechanism, there is middle way out. Why not use the natural responses of the bird itself fight the average management practices.

To improve the bird’s immunity and to overcome microbial challenges one should focus on certain specialised feed additives. The feed additive market carries an endless list of antibiotic re-placers which can be summarised in the categories of Acidifiers, Probiotics, Prebiotics and Phytobiotics. However, every trigger is only sensitive to a specific environment, a specific bacteria or a narrow mechanism of action. Acidifier resistance is well documented in recent literature, this with pH as low as 2.5 not proving effective against common taboo bacteria as salmonella. Probiotics work mainly in the finisher stages and farms still have to rely on antibiotics to curb the early chick mortality. Moreover, the probiotics work at variable dose with variable outcomes, some proving unsuitable to certain environments and ineffective in certain strains of poultry.  Prebiotics could have been an effective way to tackle the problem only if the cost and dosage would comply. Also there are various supportive nutrients fuelling the pathogenic bacteria in the gut which easily overcome prebiotics.  What the industry needs is something broad spectrum and natural. An effective Phytobiotic, and yes they work, but nobody wants to rely on a trigger that differs in sensitivity every time you are in a gunfight. What we really need is an effective and reliable Phytogenic antibiotic replacer which uses only standardised herbal Phytoconstituents as ingredients.