Total sales of antibiotics for animals in Belgium continued to fall in 2023

date: 25/06/2024

Total sales of antibiotics for animals in Belgium fell sharply in 2023: 21.7% compared to 2022, with a cumulative reduction of 62.4% compared to 2011 (reference year). Overall, the results of antibiotic resistance monitoring in food-producing animals are favourable. New initiatives are needed to support all stakeholders in their efforts to use antibiotics in a reduced, careful and rational way, to ensure the sustainable use of antibiotics in the future. 

To ensure a sustainable use of antibiotics in the future, the Centre of Expertise on Antimicrobial Consumption and Resistance in Animals (AMCRA) has published its new ‘Vision 2030’, which defines the objectives and key actions for the sustainable and rational use of antibiotics in animals in Belgium until 2030.

This new plan was drawn up with a ‘One World, One Health, One Welfare’ approach, to improve human, animal and environmental health, and with a particular focus on the sustainability of livestock farming, now and in the future, but also to expand efforts to all sectors, including pet animals and horses.

In addition to this new AMCRA ‘Vision 2030’, the authorities and sectoral organisations intend to continue working together on a new Antibiotics Agreement and a new National One Health Action Plan against antimicrobial resistance.

Results achieved in 2023
•    Total sales of antibiotics  
o    Result compared to 2022: - 21.7 %
o    Cumulative result compared to 2011: - 62.4 %
o    2024 target: - 65 % compared to 2011
•    Sales of medicated feed containing antibiotics  
o    Result compared to 2022: - 18.6 %
o    Cumulative result compared to 2011: - 86.6 %
o    2024 target: - 75 % compared to 2011
•    Sales of third and fourth generation quinolones and cephalosporins (critically important antibiotics)
o    Result compared to 2022: - 7.9 %
o    Cumulative result compared to 2011: - 75.8 %
o    2024 target: at least – 75 % compared to 2011
•    Sales of colistin  
o    Result compared to 2022: + 8.1 %
o    Cumulative result compared to 2011: - 87 %
o    2024 target: up to 1 mg/kg of biomass

Colistin and quinolones
The results of the sales indicators are positive, except for colistin, a high-priority critically important antibiotic for human health, for which sales have increased in 2023. Nevertheless, sales remain largely below the set limit of 1 mg/kg of biomass (0.62 mg/kg). The causes of this rise must be identified and resolved. Colistin must be used with caution and never as the first choice in veterinary medicine.
In laying hens, an increase in the use of colistin was recorded in 2023. Although the results in laying hens are generally good, the increasing use of colistin requires particular attention, and the trend must be reversed. 
Total sales of quinolones fell in 2023, but an increase in the use of this class of antibiotics was measured in broilers. Preventive measures and effective alternatives must be systematically put in place for the prevention and control of colibacillosis and enterococcosis, responsible for frequent infections in broilers for which quinolones are used.

A target to be completed before the end of 2024 is to achieve a maximum of 1 % of users in alarm zones (farms characterised by structurally high antibiotic use and defined in Annex 3 of the Antibiotics Agreement 2021-2024). 

Unlike the other animal categories, this target appears to be unachievable for veal calves by the end of 2024, with a percentage of users in alarm zones of 10.2 % in late 2023. Despite a sharp reduction since 2018, this sector faces specific difficulties: the young age of the animals, their general state of health and their immunity, and the grouping together of calves from different farms. To further reduce the use of antibiotics in veal calves, it is therefore essential to cooperate in a cross-sectoral way and involve the dairy sector.

For most of the targets set in the AMCRA Vision 2024 and in the second Antibiotics Agreement, the results are positive. The results achieved in 2023 should encourage us to continue the good work we are doing, which will require the cooperation and commitment of all stakeholders in all sectors.

More information

AMCRA press release

BelVet-Sac Rapport 2023
Vision 2030
Activities and achievements relating to the reduction of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in veterinary medicine in Belgium (French and Dutch only)

Last updated on 03/07/2024