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Political Bans on Antibiotics are Counterproductive

European Test Case: Increased Animal Disease, Mixed Human Health Benefit

In the mid-1990s, the European Union made a political decision to phase out the use of antibiotics as growth promoters (AGPs). Denmark, with a pork industry roughly the size of a pork herd in Iowa, led the way, instituting a full voluntary ban in 1998 and making it compulsory in 2000.

While there have been proposals in U.S. Congress to ban even more uses of antibiotics in animal agriculture, the Danish experience provides an instructive case study. Data from Denmark clearly show potential:

Increased death and disease among animals.

Greater amounts of antibiotics used to treat animal disease (although overall use is still down somewhat. Total use declined by 30 percent between 1997 and 2005, while quantities used for therapeutic purposes increased 135 percent between 1996 and 2005).

Resistance to some antibiotics has decreased in animals, and resistance to other antibiotics has increased.

Little evidence exists to suggest that antibiotic resistance in humans has declined, which was the purpose of the ban.

The bottom line is that a ban on AGPs in Denmark has not produced the intended benefit of reducing antibiotic resistance patterns in humans. It has, however, had the unintended consequence of increasing animal suffering, pain and death.

Each year, the Danish Government publishes a report on antibiotic use and resistance patterns. The chart below is drawn from the 2005 report. A full copy of the report can be found at

The data shows there are no clear correlations of resistance patterns in humans and animals.

Enterococcus faecium:

Between 1997 and 2005, resistance declined to 4 or 5 antimicrobials in samples from pigs, pork, poultry and poultry meat. However, there were increases of resistance in samples from healthy humans:

Virginiamycin resistance increased from 29 to 54 percent.

Vancomycin resistance increased from 0 to 2 percent.

Tetracycline resistance increased from 8 to 16 percent.

E. coli

In pigs, resistance to ciprofloxacin increased from zero percent in 1997 to 3 percent in 2004 and declined to less than one percent in 2005.

In humans, resistance to ciprofloxacin among E. coli urine isolates from primary health care increased to 4.3 percent. This increase is consistent with parallel increases in the use of fluoroquinolones in primary care and hospitals; it is inconsistent with the decreased use of fluoroquinolones in food animals.

Salmonella Typhimurium

Tetracycline resistance increased in poultry, pigs and humans.

Ampicillin resistance declined in poultry (9 to 0 percent), increased in pigs (7 to 27 percent) and increased in humans (11 to 45 percent).

Nalidixic Acid/Ciprofloxacin resistance declined in poultry and pigs, but increased in humans (1 to 4 percent).

Campylobacter jejuni

In chickens

Resistance to ciprofloxacin has varied, starting at 1 percent in 1997, rising to 7 percent in 2001, falling to zero in 2002 and rising to 8 percent in 2005.

Resistance to tetracycline was 5 percent in 1996 and 2005.

Resistance to erythromycin remained low at zero percent in 2005

In humans

Resistance to ciprofloxacin has varied, starting at 1 percent in 1997, rising to 7 percent in 2001, falling to zero in 2002 and rising to 8 percent in 2005.

Resistance to tetracycline from domestically acquired cases increased from 9 percent in 1997 to 25 percent in 2001, 24 percent in 2004 and 16 percent in 2005.

Resistance to erythromycin remained at zero percent.

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