Bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics is a global threat which means that serious bacterial infections in animals or people are no longer possible to treat. Using antibiotics unnecessarily, or incorrectly, increases the spread of resistance. Thanks to determined and targeted efforts with preventive measures to promote good animal health and animal welfare, the situation in Sweden is better than in many other countries. We have a low consumption of antibiotics for animals and a relatively low incidence of resistant bacteria, but the problems are increasing here as well.
The importance of slowing down the emergence and spread of resistant bacteria
Antibiotics is a large group of important medicines used to treat illnesses caused by bacteria in both people and animals. Antibiotics save lives, and modern healthcare is entirely dependent on antibiotics for the effective treatment of both people and animals.
Resistant bacteria are bacteria that have developed or acquired characteristics which make them resistant to one or more types of antibiotics. This is a natural evolutionary development, and when we use antibiotics unnecessarily, or incorrectly, this development is accelerating, i.e. more bacteria become resistant and spread further
If we are going to be able to treat bacterial diseases in the future, we must use antibiotics responsibly, when treating bacterial infections in both humans and animals.
One Health – everything is connected
Resistant bacteria can be transferred between people, animals, and food, and can spread through the environment. If the prevalence of resistant bacteria increases among people, this will also affect the prevalence among animals, in food and in the environment, and vice versa. There is thus an interplay between human and animal health and the environment. The increasing globalization entails movements of people, animals, and goods between different countries and contributes, among other things, to a rapid spread of infectious agents to new areas. One Health is a concept describing this interplay, which illuminates the importance of collaboration between different sectors and countries in order to manage such a large and complex issue as antibiotic resistance.
Use of antibiotics in animals
Since the 1980s, the use of antibiotics to treat animals has been decreasing considerably in Sweden.
Sweden has the lowest consumption of antibiotics in animals of all EU Member States. The consumption in Norway, Iceland and Finland is also at very low levels. Many EU countries are currently making efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics in animals, resulting in a decrease in the total use within the EU. Unfortunately, the use of antibiotics in animals in other parts of the world is increasing, as the demand for animal protein grows.
For many years now, animal owners and veterinarians, in cooperation with the authorities, have made targeted and determined efforts to implement preventive measures promoting good health in animals. These efforts are important in the struggle against antibiotic resistance, since healthy animals do not need antibiotics.
Preventive efforts are based on the Swedish rules for animal health, animal welfare, biosecurity and, infection prevention and control within animal husbandry as well as animal healthcare.
Other examples of preventive measures include
- breeding for healthier animals
- vaccination programmes to prevent disease
- systematic monitoring of animal diseases and infectious agents
Treatment with antibiotics
In Sweden, only veterinarians may prescribe antibiotics for the treatment of animals. When choosing the type and dosage of antibiotics to prescribe, the veterinarian must always consider the consequences of resistant bacteria.
Policies on prudent use of antibiotics and treatment guidelines are available to support these efforts.
Certain antibiotics, which are considered critically important in the treatment of people, may not be given to animals. In addition there are specific regulations regarding the use of certain other types of antibiotics. It is prohibited to use antibiotics to promote the growth of animals.
Some resistant bacteria are notifiable
In the case of findings in animals with the following bacterial types, the laboratory or the veterinarian taking the sample must report this to the Swedish Board of Agriculture and the County Administrative Board:
- methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (MRSP)
- other methicillin-resistant coagulase-positive staphylococci
- carbapenemase-producing Enterobacterales (ESBLcarba).
Specific requirements for animal owners who have animals with MRSA or MRSP infection
There are special requirements for animal owners with an animal diagnosed with an MRSA or MRSP infection to take certain measures to reduce the risk of infection spreading.
- Information about the requirements can be found on our pages about different animal species – in Swedish
From the link above you can navigate to the information for the specific animal species. The requirements are described on the webpage for “Sjukdomar, hygienregler och antibiotikaresistens” for the species in question, under the headings
- “Infektioner orsakade av resistenta bakterier”
- ”Exempel på resistenta bakterier”
- "Meticillinresistenta Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)”
- ”Meticillinresistenta Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (MRSP)”.
How the Swedish Board of Agriculture works with antibiotic resistance
Continued work for prudent use of antibiotics in animals and to counteract the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are priority areas for the Swedish Board of Agriculture. In addition to legislative efforts in areas such as animal health, animal welfare, infection control, pharmaceuticals, hygiene and feed, we cooperate with many other authorities and organisations, both nationally and internationally.
To reduce the use of antibiotics in animals and counteract the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are priority areas for the Swedish Board of Agriculture. In addition to legislative efforts in areas such as animal health, animal welfare, infection control, pharmaceuticals, hygiene and feed, we cooperate with many other authorities and organisations, both nationally and internationally.
Coordinating mechanism in the work against antibiotic resistance
In Sweden, we have a well-established collaboration between authorities and organisations called the intersectoral coordinating mechanism against antibiotic resistance.
The Swedish Board of Agriculture and the Public Health Agency have a joint mandate from the Government to lead the intersectoral coordinating mechanism (ICM). This function encompasses around 25 ministries and organisations in the areas of public health, animal health, food production, the environment, and research. The work is based on the Swedish Strategy to Combat Antibiotic Resistance, a Government assignment, and the joint action plan of the Swedish authorities.
- The Swedish Board of Agriculture's and the Public Health Agency's Government Assignment (regeringen.se) – in Swedish
- Communication strategy for the efforts against antibiotic resistance (folkhalsomyndigheten.se) – in Swedish
- The Swedish Public Health Agency's information on the intersectoral coordinating mechanism (folkhalsomyndigheten.se)
Collaboration with other countries and international organisations
The Swedish Board of Agriculture participates in several international contexts to contribute with our experience and knowledge of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic use. Among other things, we participate in various collaborations and projects under the Nordic Council of Ministers, within the EU, in the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Funds for preventive measures and efforts relating to antibiotic resistance
The Swedish Board of Agriculture annually grants funds to agricultural organisations and to other authorities to
- further improve efforts with preventive measures to reduce the need for antibiotics
- limit the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
- raise awareness of and knowledge about the responsible use of antibiotics.
What you do can affect the development of antibiotic resistance
Everyone can contribute to save the antibiotics, this is not just a matter for animal keepers, veterinarians or ministries. On the website ”Safeguarding antibiotics - An initiative by the Swedish Intersectoral Coordinating Mechanism (ICM)”, you can find out more about antibiotic resistance and what you can do to reduce the risk that resistant bacteria spread. The information on “Safeguarding antibiotics” has been provided by the 25 authorities and organisations that are part of the national intersectoral coordinating mechanism against antibiotic resistance.
Revision date: 2023-03-16