Sweden strengthens voluntary antibiotic criteria to reduce overuse in food production

2020-09-14

Press release 09/14/20: The list of criteria for antibiotics and animal husbandry that food companies in Sweden can set for suppliers when purchasing meat, dairy products and seafood has been strengthened. Behind the voluntary antibiotic criteria is Axfoundation, which together with Swedish companies, academia, authorities, industry associations and civil society organizations, has developed a stricter tool as a way to contribute to reduce the overuse of antibiotics for food-producing animals.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global public health - still overuse of antibiotics in global food production is widespread, contributing to a growing antibiotic resistance. (Photo: Istock.com/T-lorien)

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global public health – still overuse of antibiotics in global food production is widespread, contributing to a growing antibiotic resistance. (Photo: Istock.com/T-lorien)

Recent statistics from the National Veterinary Institute (SVA) reveal that the use of antibiotics in animals in Sweden is low on an international level, yet the difference between countries in Europe is very large. Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Norway have the lowest sales of antibiotics for animals according to the European Medicines Agency, while Cyprus, Italy and Spain have the highest. In many countries, group treatment with antibiotics via feed or water still occurs, something that has decreased markedly in Sweden since the 1990s. In countries outside Europe, using antibiotics for growth-promotion purposes is still allowed – a procedure that was banned in Sweden 1986, and within the EU in 2006. Antibiotic use in animals is currently regulated by legislation at both national and EU levels, however Maria Smith, secretary general of Axfoundation, believes that the regulations in some cases are insufficient and do not lead to responsible use.

“The Antibiotic criteria 2.0 is a concrete tool for buyers to work with in dialogue with suppliers in Sweden, but not least in the rest of the world,” says Maria Smith. “The criteria can be used by food companies to set additional requirements and contribute to a positive development in the supply chain in terms of both animal husbandry and antibiotic use – no matter where the product has been produced.”

Healthy animals do not need antibiotics

The World Health Organization classifies antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest threats to global public health. At the same time, overuse of antibiotics in global food production is widespread, contributing to a growing antibiotic resistance among animals and humans.

“Globally, more antibiotics are given to healthy animals than to sick people,” says Jenny Lundström, antibiotic expert at Friska Djur. “Good animal welfare provides healthier animals and healthy animals are a prerequisite for good animal welfare. Healthy animals simply do not need antibiotics. It is the incorrect and unnecessary use of antibiotics that accelerates the development of antibiotic resistance. The medicine no longer has any effect, which creates a global health problem.”

Industry is working together to reduce the use of antibiotics

The list of criteria has been developed in collaboration with an expert group and reference group consisting of veterinarians, researchers, antibiotic experts and representatives from civil society, industry associations, food producers, food service and grocery retailers in Sweden. The first edition of the criteria came as early as 2014, but these have now been strengthened with, among other things, clarified animal welfare criteria, restrictions on veterinary use of antibiotics that are particularly important for healthcare, and criteria for seafood. A dozen food companies already use the material today, and now Axfoundation hopes that the stricter version with associated questionnaire will be used in practice by even more actors.

“This is not just a piece of paper that companies can check off, but a concrete tool when buying animal foods. In this way, Swedish companies can contribute to a lower use of antibiotics for food-producing animals and thus also contribute to a reduced development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” says Maria Smith. “But antibiotic resistance is a global problem that requires global solutions. Therefore, we warmly welcome companies acting on other markets and in other countries to implement similar criteria.”

Related material:

Contact

Related facts:

  • Overuse of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance: Antibiotics cure bacterial diseases and are life-saving drugs for humans and animals. But bacteria can become resistant, impervious to antibiotics and so the drug does not work. Problems with antibiotic-resistant bacteria are growing quickly around the world. Antibiotic resistance can be transmitted between humans, between animals, and between animals and humans. The development of antibiotic resistance in animals is affected, among other things, by how much antibiotic is used, which in turn is affected by, among other things, animal husbandry systems.
  • Antibiotic use in animals in Sweden and Europe: The use of antibiotics in animals in Sweden is low on an international level. But the difference between countries in Europe is very large. In Europe, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway have the lowest sales of antibiotics for animals (per kilogram of estimated live weight), according to the European Medicines Agency. Cyprus, Italy and Spain have the highest. In many countries, group treatment with antibiotics via feed or water is much more common than in Sweden. In addition, using antibiotics for growth promotion purposes was banned in Sweden in 1986 and within the EU in 2006. In many other countries, such use is still permitted.
  • Voluntary antibiotic criteria complement the legislation: The updated voluntary antibiotic criteria that companies can use in the dialogue with suppliers of meat, dairy products and seafood go a step further than current legislation. The tool also contains an associated questionnaire with follow-up questions to suppliers, and an educational material with basic information about antibiotics in food production. The criteria are not specific to Sweden and Swedish companies, but can also be used by other countries.
  • The antibiotic criteria have been developed by Axfoundation together with an expert group comprising Max Troell (Beijer Institute / Stockholm Resilience Center), Jenny Lundström (Healthy Animals/Friska Djur) and Frida Lundmark Hedman (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), and a reference group comprising representatives from the food industry, civil society, academia and authorities; Axfood, Coop, Findus, Farm and animal health (Gård & Djurhälsan), ICA, Lidl, The Swedish Food Federation, The Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF), , Martin & Servera, The National Veterinary Institute, (SVA), Swedish Food Retailers Federation, The National Agency for Public Procurement, Vi Konsumenter), World Animal Protection, WWF in Sweden. Additional information available at axfoundation.se 

Updates

Projects within Future Food