The Statens Serum Institut and National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark recently released a report charting a decline in overall antibiotic use in the country’s food animals.

Funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education, the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and the Ministry of the Health, the Danish Integrated Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring and Research Program (DANMAP) monitors “the consumption of antimicrobial agents for food animals and humans” and “the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria isolated from food animals, food of animal origin and humans.” It also studies the association between antimicrobial consumption and antimicrobial resistance, seeking to identify “routes of transmission and areas for further research studies.”

Data from DANMAP 2011 apparently showed a 15-percent decrease in total veterinary consumption of antimicrobial agents since 2010, “mainly attributed to a decreased consumption in pigs.” In particular, DANMAP 2011 reported a 30-percent decrease “in the number of defined doses per pig produced” due to the “yellow card” initiative that imposes “preventative measures in the pig herds with the highest [antimicrobial] consumption per pig” as well as a voluntary ban on cephalosporin use in these animals. The report also noted that, compared to 2010, antimicrobial consumption decreased 8 percent in poultry and 11 percent in fish, but remained the same in cattle and increased in companion animals.

In terms of zoonotic bacteria resistance, DANMAP 2011 recorded a “significant increase in resistance to ampicillin, neomycin, sulfonamide and tetracycline” among Salmonella Typhimurium isolates taken from Danish pigs, although it observed no significant changes in resistance for Campylobacter jejuni in Danish broilers and cattle or for Campylobacter coli in Danish pigs. “However, the levels of tetracycline resistance have increased since 2005, and this trend has been particularly clear in C. coli isolates in pigs from 2008 to 2011,” states the report, adding that fluoroquinolone resistance in C. jejuni “was significantly higher among isolates from imported broiler meat (57%) compared with isolates from Danish broiler meat (11%).”

With regard to general levels of resistance in healthy animals, DANMAP 2011 reportedly found “a significant increase in antimicrobial resistance to betalactams (penicillin and ampicillin)” among Enterococcus faecium isolated from pigs, with no significant changes in resistance observed for E. coli isolates from Danish broilers and cattle. “[S]ignificantly higher levels of tetracycline resistance were found in E. facecalis isolates from imported pork, compared to isolates from Danish pork,” notes the report. “In general, the highest resistance levels were found in indicator E. coli isolates from pigs, except for fluoroquinolone (ciprofloxacin) resistance which was higher in isolates from broilers.”

Meanwhile, the Pew Health Group has released a statement lauding Denmark’s efforts, pointing to several measures that have successfully curbed the use of livestock antibiotics in the country. “Denmark stopped the administration of antibiotics used for growth promotion (i.e., non-medical uses) in broiler chickens and young pigs (finishers) in 1998, and in baby pigs (weaners) in 1999,” opines Pew’s October 15, 2012, press release. “In Denmark today, all uses of antibiotics in food animals must be prescribed by a veterinarian. Additionally, farmers, veterinarians, and pharmacies must report the use and sale of antibiotics, and farm inspections are conducted regularly to ensure antibiotics are not being misused on the farm.”

U.S. Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has also called for more transparency in the animal drug industry, pledging to introduce legislation intended “to increase information on the amount and use of antibiotics in animals raised for human consumption.” Titled Delivering Antibiotic Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act, the bill will require (i) drug manufacturers to inform the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the use of their products on farms; and (ii) feed mills “to submit data to FDA on the types, purposes, and quantities of antibiotics being given to animals through feed.”

“We need reliable information about the use of antibiotics in agricultural operations,” said Waxman in an October 16, 2012, press release. “The more we learn, the graver the threat becomes from overuse of antibiotics by industrialscale farms. We need this information so scientists and Congress can stop the spread of drug-resistant infections from farm animals to humans.”