On The Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock Production: Tackling Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance. Hot topic not only in animal health but also in human health discussions. Excessive use of antibiotics in the past led to the appearance of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the present. If the livestock industry uses too much antibiotics, sooner or later the resistant bacteria strains will affect water, soil and livestock products and can lead to uncontrolled diseases and epidemics.

Then why do we use antibiotics in livestock? Antibiotics are used to prevent, control and treat diseases in animals. Furthermore if we look at the swine industry, in-feed antibiotics are commonly used in order to boost the growth of weaned pigs.

Antibiotics are an essential part of intensive livestock farming. How can computer vision help to reduce antibiotic usage on the farms?

Source: The Star (November, 2017) 

The future of livestock farming depends greatly on how sustainable production could continue while still carefully considering the long term health of the individual animals, environment and humans.

Nevertheless, sustainable livestock production faces some serious threats.

The World Bank warns;

By 2050, drug-resistant infections could cause global economic damage on par with the 2008 financial crisis[1] 

Antimicrobial resistance is now considered as a global health threat, causing 1.27 million deaths in 2019 - more deaths than HIV/AIDS or malaria[2] 

Professor Chris Murray, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, USA, said: “We must act now to combat antimicrobial resistance. Previous estimates had predicted 10 million annual deaths from AMR by 2050, but we now know for certain that we are already far closer to that figure than we thought. We need to leverage this data to course-correct action and drive innovation if we want to stay ahead in the race against antimicrobial resistance.”[2] 

Taking action against such a serious threat requires action and cooperation by all players within the industry. Especially regulations play a critical role as they have a leading transformative effect. The news is in the EU, routine use of antibiotics will no longer be allowed from 2022[6]

Another example is colistin sulfate. It is a commonly used antibiotic in the feed of weaned pigs, especially along with zinc oxide (non-antibiotic feed supplement) in pre-starter feeds in order to decrease diarrhea. The European Union is strongly promoting to restrict antibiotic use in livestock farming. The EU banned the use of zinc oxide in weaned piglet feed from June, 2022. 


As a technology provider in the industry, Serket has been running an R&D project with one of the biggest Hungarian feed companies, Vitafort Co.  (http://vitafort.hu/) 

For almost half a century, Vitafort Co. has been an active and one of the prominent players in the Central European Region, furthermore a leading company in the Hungarian animal feed market. The company responds to the challenges of modern feed production and feeding with innovation, investing more than 2% of its turnover in R&D projects. Through its companies and subsidiaries, Vitafort Co. is an active participant in world market processes, made significant developments in food chain safety in Asia and always strives to find sustainable and practical solutions in every aspect of its work.

The parties are developing Feedmaster, which is an innovative monitoring system that tracks and reports on animal behavior. The system uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to identify abnormal animal behaviors. The system also supports decision making and recommends interventions to farmers. 

Furthermore it measures the impact of new-feeding protocols, further improving animal health – while minimizing antibiotics usage.  Feedmaster uses ordinary security-camera video streams, with no invasive or expensive hardware required and provides a 24/7 live stream of animals’ health status.

Vitafort’s main goal for this project is to substitute two substances in pre-starter pig feeds: colistin sulfate (an antibiotic) and Zinc oxide (an anti-diarrheal), which are harmful in case of not therapeutic, but preventive use. 

By the end of the project, Serket and Vitafort expect to ensure pig health by using non-antibiotic, bioactive substances. The beneficial effects of the developed non-antibiotical feeds will be proven by Serket’s livestock management software. 

Testimonial from Vitafort:

"Transdisciplinary cooperation always had a high priority in the activity of Vitafort Co. since these programs allow the partners to observe the challenge from different perspectives and to find the answer by combining their knowledge and toolsets coming from different areas. The objective of Feedmaster is quite ambitious, as antimicrobial resistance evolved into a global problem these days.

Finding a material that does not only substitute the forbidden antibiotic and other substances (zinc- oxide) but not decreases the price competitiveness of the feed in the market is especially important. According to our expectations, it is possible to identify a potential bioactive additive or additive combination through joint work, which can be applied in the practice.”

Source: CBC (December, 2016)

In the last 65 years, usage of antibiotics at sub-therapeutic levels helped farmers revolutionize agriculture. Even though it was initially introduced to treat disease, antibiotics were also utilized for the rate of gain and feed efficiency, becoming an important player for their expanded use in livestock, including pigs.[7]

Routine use of antibiotics delivers both its advantages and disadvantages. As farm animals become more resistant to antibiotics, it becomes much harder to treat them day by day. Development of a new antibiotic can take 10-15 years and cost more than USD 1 billion.[7]

Therefore, rather than allocating the resources for creation of new antibiotics to tackle AMR, the better approach would be to regulate when and how much we use them - so they really work when we actually need them.

Innovations like Vitafort’s Feedmaster project can optimize feeding and decrease antibiotic usage to sustainable levels, using behavioral based detection to keep revolutionizing the agriculture industry.


[1] Around 160,000 tons of antibiotics are fed to farm animals annually in 2020. The world counts. Retrieved from https://www.theworldcounts.com/challenges/consumption/foods-and-beverages/antibiotics-used-for-livestock 

[2] An estimated 1.2 million people died in 2019 from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. University of Oxford. Retrieved from https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2022-01-20-estimated-12-million-people-died-2019-antibiotic-resistant-bacterial-infections 

[3] Farm antibiotic use. Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics. Retrieved from https://www.saveourantibiotics.org/the-issue/antibiotic-overuse-in-livestock-farming/#:~:text=Antibiotics%20and%20farming,in%20farm%20animals%2C%20not%20people

[4] Chris Dall | News Reporter | CIDRAP News  | Jun 06, 2018. (2018, June 6). Report: US Pigs consume nearly as many antibiotics as people do. CIDRAP. Retrieved from https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2018/06/report-us-pigs-consume-nearly-many-antibiotics-people-do#:~:text=The%20report%20estimates%20that%2027.1,for%20use%20in%20human%20medicine 

[5] Browne, A. J., Chipeta, M. G., Haines-Woodhouse, G., Kumaran, E. P. A., Hamadani, B. H. K., Zaraa, S., Henry, N. J., Deshpande, A., Reiner, R. C., Day, N. P. J., Lopez, A. D., Dunachie, S., Moore, C. E., Stergachis, A., Hay, S. I., & Dolecek, C. (2021, November 11). Global antibiotic consumption and usage in humans, 2000–18: A spatial modelling study. The Lancet Planetary Health. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(21)00280-1/fulltext#:~:text=We%20estimate%20that%20the%20global,per%201000%20population%20per%20day 

[6] Report: Ending routine farm antibiotic use in Europe through improving animal health and welfare. Retrieved from https://epha.org/ending-routine-farm-antibiotic-use/

[7] Dibner, J. J., and J. D. Richards. "Antibiotic growth promoters in agriculture: history and mode of action." Poultry science84.4 (2005): 634-643.

[8] World Antimicrobial Awareness Week. (November, 2022). Retrieved from https://www.woah.org/app/uploads/2022/09/waaw2022-guide-en-1.pdf 

Written by: Enikő Sánta

Edited by: Hilal Karakaya