Five years without antibiotic growth promoters (AGP) in the EU livestock production

Regulation (EC) No 1831/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union on additives for use in animal nutrition established in its Article 11 the phasing out the antibiotics used as feed additives, to be effective as from January 1st, 2006. Therefore, at date of writing this note, more than five years have already passed without using antibiotics as feed additives in the livestock production within the European Union territory.

The decision to ban the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in the E.U. and the process to apply such ban was based on two opinions of the Scientific Steering Committee (DG SANCO, EU COMMISSION). The first opinion dated 28 May 1999 stated that: “the use of antimicrobials as growth promoting agents from classes which are or may be used in human or veterinary medicine (i.e. where there is a risk of selecting for cross-resistance to drugs used to treat bacterial infections) should be phased out as soon as possible and ultimately abolished”. The second opinion on antimicrobial resistance dated 11 May 2001 confirmed the need to provide a sufficient time to replace those antimicrobials by alternative products.

Basically, the main difference between antibiotic growth promoters and probiotics is their different mode of action on the bacterial gut flora: while antibiotics reduce not only the harmful bacteria, but also the total numbers of bacteria in the intestinal tract, the probiotics have an stabilizing effect of the bacteria in the intestinal tract, by enhancing the growth of the beneficial gut flora and thus maintaining the suitable balance between the different components of the gut flora to allow a smooth function of the gastrointestinal system.

Nowadays, it is beyond any doubt that probiotics used as feed additives (i.e. a variety of bacteria and yeasts) have consolidated to be an effective alternative of choice by the livestock producers in the E.U. It should be taken into account that some of the current authorized probiotics have a long history of use in some E.U. countries, e.g. for more than 20 years, when the authorizations were granted at national level. Also, new probiotics or new uses of already existing probiotics have been authorized every year since 2006 when consulting the latest edition of the Community Register of Feed Additives.

Furthermore, the EFSA’s strict requirements for the authorization of probiotics as feed additives in the E.U. in terms of safety, environmental respect and efficacy is a guarantee that the probiotics are reliable additives to support the livestock production.