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Antibiotic Reduction in Poultry

Antibiotic Reduction in Poultry

The importance of gut health in antibiotic-free production cannot be overstated, which is why we offer an innovative set of gut performance management solutions.

The overuse of antibiotics both in humans and in animals has been linked to the higher occurrence of antibiotic resistances in bacteria that jeopardize the efficacy of antimicrobial treatment. Essentially, antibiotic use is key to understanding efforts to curtail antibiotics in poultry.

Increasingly, our clients have embraced the responsible use of antibiotics, helping to preserve their medicinal value for the treatment of humans and animals. We support customers in their efforts to remove antibiotic growth promoters and to adopt antibiotic-free (ABF) feeding strategies.

Reach Your Antibiotics Goal

The discovery of antibiotics in 1920s revolutionized medicine and saved countless lives. The revelation of antibiotics’ ability to promote growth in livestock at subtherapeutic doses in the late 1940s transformed the animal protein industry, improving profits and enabling us to feed a burgeoning world.

The importance of gut health in antibiotic-free production cannot be overstated, which is why we offer an innovative set of gut performance management solutions. 

A tailored combination of feed additives from BIOMIN can help you achieve your antibiotic reduction objective successfully.
Franz Waxenecker, Development and Innovation Director

Challenges of antibiotics reduction

When antibiotics are removed from modern production, other issues frequently emerge. One of the biggest challenges in transitioning from a conventional to an antibiotic-free (ABF) system is the prevention of necrotic enteritis without the use of in-feed medications. 

Mycotoxin contamination becomes more important, pathogen challenges flare and poor management practices are laid bare—all in addition to the performance gap that must be closed.

Addressing antibiotic resistance and closing the performance gap that opens up when antibiotics are removed from the diet constitute the two biggest challenges to ensuring sustainable profitability for the poultry industry while also keeping antibiotics working as intended well into the future.

Gut health management strategies in antibiotic free poultry production

Consumer demand, regulation and a lack of new antimicrobial molecules all contribute to the current, 
long-term trend to reduce antibiotics in modern poultry systems. 

While the need for consumer education around food production remains an open question, it is the ability of bacteria to become resistant to one or more antibiotics –rendering those drugs ineffective– and the profound implications for both human and animal health that account for the need to reduce antibiotics. 

Any kind of antibiotic use in people, animals or plants can promote the development and spread of antibiotic resistance.
World Health Organization (2011)
How Antibiotic Resistance Happens
How Antibiotic Resistance Happens
Source: https://www.cdc.gov/

The identification of antibiotic use in farm animals as a risk factor in the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria explains why antimicrobial resistance has  continued to garner greater attention from health authorities and regulators worldwide, particularly for antibiotics deemed important to human medicine. 

This concern is separate from antibiotic residues potentially finding their way into meat and eggs: withdrawal periods and monitoring have already been established to ensure that antibiotics do not enter the food supply.

The future of antibiotics is for treatment (only)

Historically, motivations for antibiotic use in animal husbandry fall into three categories: growth promotion, disease prevention and treatment. The trend when it comes to governmental restrictions on antibiotics has been rather clear: antibiotics used for growth promotion will be discouraged. 

Fortunately, novel growth promoters can deliver real value to modern poultry production. Read AGP replacement tools are ready for action

Countries looking to limit the application of antibiotics in animals typically start with restrictions on one or several antibiotic growth promoters (AGPs) often followed by a ban on AGPs.

The dosages applied when antibiotics are used as AGPs are lower than the minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC), which is the level needed to make sure that the bacterial growth is inhibited (known as bacteriostatic effect). This indicates that the dosage is too low to be able to suppress the growth of pathogens in the gut, and has also been confirmed by numerous scientific studies.

The move toward prudent antibiotics use in livestock
The move toward prudent antibiotics use in livestock | Source: BIOMIN

At least 32 countries have imposed a nationwide ban on AGPs, and 35 have a veterinary prescription requirement.

As a second step, some –though not all– countries then look to address preventive or prophylactic antibiotic use— thereby limiting the use of antibiotics to treat disease. Yet, these alone are not always sufficient to reduce antibiotic use in livestock.

Prevalence of antibiotic resistance in poultry

Numerous monitoring programs that survey levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals exist throughout the world. Aggregating surveillance data from 19 countries that record antimicrobial resistance of E. coli in poultry shows that countries such as Norway and Sweden that have less
intensive antibiotic use also have lower levels of E. coli resistant to certain antibiotics. This observation, along with continued pressure from consumers frequenting retailers and fast food outlets, increases the likelihood that more countries will eventually move to restrict antibiotic use to disease treatment. (For more read “How to reduce antibiotic resistance on poultry farms”). 

First, misuse of antibiotics and the use of subtherapeutic doses for prevention may contribute to the development of resistance.

Second, some antimicrobials targeting bacterial DNA, such as quinolones, easily lead to mutations that make these microbes increasingly drug resistant. Their use may leave highly antimicrobial resistant metabolites in poultry houses, making them a reservoir for the spread of antibiotic resistance in the vicinity and across the human and animal food chain. These mutated bacteria will survive and live to proliferate and generate other bacteria that can also be highly resistant. Thus, in a short time, disinfectants and other prophylactic procedures will be burdensome and, ultimately, ineffective for treatment.

Antibiotic Resistance in Poultry

Third, beta-lactam antibiotics including carbapenams, are often used to treat a broad spectrum of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. All these antibiotics have a common element in their molecular structure: a four-atom ring, known as b-lactam.

This common element is a strategic weakness, in the sense that bacteria can secrete enzymes (beta-lactamases), and through hydrolysis, the enzyme lactamase breaks the open b-lactam ring. As a consequence, the structure of the molecule is broken and its antibacterial properties are deactivated - thus reducing the effectiveness of the drug.

Currently, there are no new antibiotics on the market to fight carbapenem-resistant bacteria, and the worldwide spread of the resistance gene is considered a potential nightmare scenario.

Negative effects of antibiotics

In addition to concern about antibiotic resistance, the use and abuse of antibiotics may have some negative effects on birds:

  • Prolonged treatment with tetracyclines may have catabolic and immunosuppressive effects, reduce the normal intestinal microbiota, and make the bird more susceptible to opportunistic infections.
  • Release of harmful quantities of endotoxins, or lipopolysaccharides, that have a negative impact on poultry
  • Antibiotics destroy beneficial and harmful intestinal microbiota. The first constitutes a first line of defense that prevents the establishment of potential pathogens. The intestinal microbiota of a bird is capable of producing natural antimicrobial agents, such as bacteriocins. Particularly in young birds, the destruction of commensal microbes leaves the door open to the development of harmful bacteria and coccidia.

Some antibiotics such as aminoglycosides and sulfonamides may compromise renal function and impair the absorption of minerals, especially in young and dehydrated birds. Chronic kidney dysfunction occurs when high or prolonged dose therapy is attempted.

Continuous and prolonged use of fluoroquinolones in poultry may cause the development of fluoroquinolone resistant Campylobacter. Used above the prescribed dose, they may also impair cartilage tissue (chondrotoxicity). See 10 tips to control Campylobacter on your poultry farm.

Alternatives to antibiotics

Our scientific understanding has evolved in recent years, proving new non-antibiotic solutions for prophylaxis and metaphylaxis in flocks, for example through immune support and intestinal performance management. 

The challenge for producers who have adopted antibiotic exit programs or find themselves in countries where antibiotic use is being curtailed, is to reduce antibiotics while keeping performance high.

Novel feed additives allow veterinarians and producers to apply preventive strategies that avoid the need for treatment.

They include a variety of tactics that stimulate the immune system, protect intestinal integrity, create a difficult environment for harmful bacteria, control harmful bacteria without deleterious effects on host systems and produce no resistance, and allow the bird's natural defenses to function fully.

In modern animal production, there is a need for growth promoters in feed, just as there is a need for disease prevention. Some combination of feed additives, enhanced biosecurity, vaccination programs and better management practices will be the way forward—as evidenced by producers and geographies that have already made the switch.

Antibiotic reduction scenarios

Replacing antibiotics in livestock production opens up considerable complexity in terms of species, climate, production stage, age, production system and geography.

What is needed therefore is a customizable solution that can accommodate all of these factors. This can be done by identifying the right combination of probiotic, phytogenic, organic-acid based and/or mycotoxin deactivator products that deliver the right results in a given situation.  Examination of the following scenarios shows how different poultry production systems in different countries can benefit from varying combinations of feed additives in order to best address the specific on-site challenges.

Pathogen challenge in the United States

Consider a deep litter facility in the southeastern US in which there is a high background level of spore-forming Clostridium perfringens and too much nitrogen in the diet— the result of higher dietary protein possibly from animal by-products. 

C. perfringens, which excretes α-toxin, is not particularly virulent, though its overgrowth can decrease flock performance unless it carries specific toxin genes like
NetB. Taking out antibiotics requires a solution focused on pathogen control in addition to reviewing protein source and quality.

One suitable solution would be to apply a phytogenic feed additive (PFA) to put pressure on Gram-positive bacteria, and apply an organic acid-based product to help counteract Gram-negative bacteria.

Latin America
Over-sanitization in Europe

One example broiler facility in Europe is in fact, through excellent hygiene, overly sanitary resulting in the elimination of both the harmful and beneficial gut bacteria from the gut environment. Water application of a poultry-specific synbiotic in the first three days would quickly establish a healthy gut microbiome and support immune development. 

Feed application of a PFA would support digestibility, and lower inflammation, leading to optimized feed conversion. The combination could be reintroduced in the final feed.

United States and Canada
Gram-negative in Latin America

In another scenario, consider the case of Salmonella challenge, poor chick quality and inconsistent breeder flocks. Antibiotics are allowed in production and currency fluctuations discourage the prospect of switching to novel growth promoters (NGPs). 

Here, it would make sense to apply a probiotic early on, and an acid-based product throughout the production stages. The poultry-specific synbiotic (prebiotic + probiotic) would ideally deliver essential bacterial strains to the gastrointestinal tract to promote gut development, and to competitively exclude pathogens from colonizing the gut. 

The acid-based product would keep the gut environment hostile to Gram-negative bacteria. Both products can be co-applied either through feed or water application, providing full flexibility.


BIOMIN helps you reach your antibiotics reduction goal

The reduction and removal of antibiotics from poultry diets requires a 360-degree approach including good farm management, nutrition, biosecurity, hygiene and a robust health and vaccination program. 

We support our customers throughout the antibiotic reduction process through on-site consultation on how to exercise the seven levers of poultry gut health for antibiotic reduction success

Our solutions can be applied to help partially or completely reduce antibiotic use while supporting animal health and welfare, and maintaining profitability.

We recognize that each farm has its own unique set of conditions, which is why our international expert team is available to assist you in the identification of on-site challenges while also providing you with tailor-made solutions from our toolkit to help you attain the desired level of performance.

7 Levers of Poultry Gut Health
7 Levers of Poultry Gut Health | Source: BIOMIN

BIOMIN suggests setting priorities for prevention, including:

  • Implement a reliable and ongoing mycotoxin risk management program, and regularly monitor feed ingredients
  • Preventive application of a proven mycotoxin deactivator to counteract mycotoxins and to promote immune protection, intestinal integrity and liver and kidney function.
  • Establishment of a beneficial intestinal microbiota at the outset with a probiotic for poultry in order to promote eubiosis and the optimal development of the intestinal and immune system.
  • Support intestinal integrity with a phytogenic feed additive that exhibits anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiprotozoal properties, reducing the risk caused by many pathogens such as Eimeria and Clostridium spp.
  • Improve poultry drinking water quality with acidification
  • Ensure proper feed hygiene through the application of an organic acid-based poultry acidifier that can reduce the burden of Gram-negative pathogens in the intestine.

The good news

  • Antibiotic resistance enables bacteria to survive and continue to grow instead of being killed or inhibited by therapeutic doses of the drug. The rise of antibiotic resistance puts one of the great medical findings of all time at risk.

    Fortunately, innovative tools shown to be safe, effective and profitable for the industry are available that can enable the industry to reduce antibiotic usage – preserving the value of antibiotics for treatment.



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