[INTERVIEW] BIOMIN Responds to Review on Antimicrobial Resistance's Final Report

[Feedinfo News Service] Mr. Doncecchi, why is the recent final report from the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance noteworthy?

Paolo Doncecchi, Head of Global Product Management – Gut Performance at BIOMIN[Paolo Doncecchi] The report makes an important contribution towards quantifying the problems associated with antimicrobial resistance. The authors initially estimated the negative consequences of antimicrobial resistance to reach USD 100 trillion by 2050, when it could by then be responsible for 10 million deaths annually. Those already staggering figures estimate the direct costs of AMR based on research by the Rand think tank and other experts. Yet, the final report highlights that those may be underestimated since the secondary effects of antibiotics losing their effectiveness –e.g. higher infection-related risks for certain medical procedures— were not considered. So the importance of the topic cannot be neglected. Furthermore, the authors suggest that an investment of USD 40 billion would serve to mitigate the worst impacts of AMR: just a fraction of the total cost. This indicates that prevention is clearly the most cost-effective strategy to counteracting AMR.

[Feedinfo News Service] What do you think of the report’s list of recommendations, particularly those aiming to reduce the unnecessary use of antimicrobials in agriculture and their dissemination into the environment?

[Paolo Doncecchi] The authors correctly identify a number of measures that would, in my opinion, help to address the root cause of antimicrobial resistance, including monitoring of antimicrobial active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) discharge, compiling a single, harmonized list of antibiotics critical to human health and limiting their use in agriculture, and improving data collection and dissemination. The call for improved transparency for consumers through a yet-to-be-defined ‘responsible use’ label is something that did not appear in the December 2015 paper, but if implemented could put further consumer pressure on the industry to move away from antibiotic use. The proposal for country level targets expressed in milligrams of antibiotic used per kilogram of meat or fish production is interesting in that it explicitly recognizes that antibiotic reduction cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach.

[Feedinfo News Service] Are there any elements of the final report with which you disagree?

[Paolo Doncecchi] In my view the final report adequately addressed the use of antibiotics as feed additives in terms of undesirable sub therapeutic use (AGPs), but failed to recognize the role of other feed additives such as novel growth promoters (NGPs) as the way forward. We’ve recently shared results of meta-analysis of swine and poultry trials that show NGPs such as phytogenics, direct-fed microbials and acidifier-based products can perform as well or better than AGPs across a number of performance measures. Similarly, although the final report correctly pointed out that higher animal vaccination rates would decrease reliance on antibiotics, it made no mention of the fact that certain innovative feed additives have been demonstrated to improve vaccine effectiveness—potentially giving antibiotic reduction a further boost.

[Feedinfo News Service] What barriers hinder the reduction in antibiotic use in livestock production?

[Paolo Doncecchi] According to the report, knowledge on the issue even among veterinarians can be improved: the first of the ten steps is a global awareness campaign on AMR. The scientific foundations are largely settled: the report’s authors show that the vast majority of peer-reviewed academic papers support limiting the use of antibiotics in agriculture. So there’s a need to communicate this knowledge more broadly. And it’s no secret that there are switching costs associated with antibiotic reduction strategies—though the authors highlight Denmark and the Netherlands as countries that made significant progress in antibiotic reduction while achieving production improvements. At the same time, they strongly question the economic value of AGPs—especially since 2000. The rise in AMR means that AGPs could be less useful. In addition, AMR poses a long-term risk to animal production in that high levels of resistance could wipe out entire herds or flocks. Fortunately, as livestock producers gain knowledge and experience with NGPs, they recognize the opportunities for animal performance improvements that avoid the negative consequences of AGPs.

[Feedinfo News Service] What developments do you expect on the topic of antimicrobial resistance in the future?

[Paolo Doncecchi] Given the importance of AMR and the implications for the industry and society as a whole, much remains to be done. The review left open the question regarding whether ionophores contribute to AMR. While more research may be needed to answer that question, there is already a segment of consumers and producers that are looking to reduce or eliminate ionophores from production. Each of our gut performance products offers different benefits to those seeking effective NGPs to support their antibiotic reduction strategy, or to pursue performance improvements in existing antibiotic-free (ABF) systems.

[Feedinfo News Service] By tackling the problem at the source and by improving hygiene on the farm would help reduce AMR massively. Would you argue that it is necessary to re-think the current models of food animal production?

[Paolo Doncecchi] It’s impossible to ignore the severity of the problem and the implications. In late May, U.S. health officials reported the case of a patient with an infection resistant to all known antibiotics. The prospect of millions of such cases should be a clear sign that change is needed. At the same time, there is no single model of food animal production. Europe banned AGPs in 2006 and a number of countries have decreased their consumption of antibiotics considerably. So it’s the unsustainable models that will need to change—and that holds equally true for antibiotic resistance as for other topics such as the environment and food security.

[Feedinfo News Service] Given the need to communicate more broadly on the merits of antibiotic-free diets, don't you think the feed additive industry should rally together and fight for the cause and create common goals, instead of just using the important issue as a marketing tool? Why should the industry pay particular attention to BIOMIN's stance today?

[Paolo Doncecchi] Though a nice idea, it’s unlikely in practice given the number of feed additive firms that have adopted a more marketing-driven approach and simply labelled their existing products as alternatives to AGPs. At BIOMIN, we deliberately approached the AMR topic from a science-driven perspective, and that stems in part from the fact that BIOMIN was founded on the premise that natural and innovative solutions to support animal nutrition should benefit animals, producers and the environment. As a result, we’ve spent many years sharing information on antibiotic resistance with the feed and livestock sectors. What’s more, one of our largest currently-running R&D projects addresses the topic of antibiotic resistance head on, and we expect to make further announcements regarding those findings at a later time.

This interview was first published on www.feedinfo.com.