Antibiotics in veterinary medicine: increasing resistance despite declining sales

Bern, 24.09.2013 - Sales of antibiotics used in veterinary medicine declined by a total of 8% in 2012 compared with 2011. At the same time, the incidence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in slaughterhouse pigs tripled.

Antibiotics are essential drugs in the fight against microbial infection, in both human and veterinary medicine. However, their use can also encourage the development of resistance, which may render successful treatment more difficult or even impossible. Switzerland has therefore been monitoring antibiotic resistance in farm animals and recording antibiotic sales data since 2006.

Falling sales

In 2012, according to Swissmedic, a total of 57,157 kg of antibiotics was sold for veterinary purposes. This represents a fall of 8% on the year before. Compared with the previous peak year (2008), this corresponds to as much as a 21% decline in the total volume of sales. The decrease in antibiotic sales is much greater than the decrease in livestock populations (cattle -0.4%, pigs -2%), which indicates that antibiotic use was generally lower in these populations compared with the previous year. The poultry population has in fact expanded.

Increasing resistance

Despite the fall in the volume of antibiotics sold, the situation in terms of antibiotic resistance has not improved. The spread of multi-resistant bacteria such as MRSA or ESBL-producing enterobacteria, which are also found increasingly in humans and can be treated only with a small number of reserve antibiotics, is causing worldwide concern. Resistance to important antibiotics continues to increase and is found frequently both in zoonotic pathogens and in indicator organisms in farm animals in Switzerland. MRSA is continuing its dramatic spread, especially in the Swiss pig population. The incidence of MRSA in slaughterhouse pigs rose last year from 5.6% to 18%. It is in the interests of both human and veterinary medicine to tackle this problem. In July 2013, therefore, the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA), working with the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), launched a broad-based nationwide programme to develop strategies for the control of antibiotic resistance.

With the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) in overall charge, the Federal Veterinary Office (FVO) and the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG) work together with the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the cantons and the parties affected. The aim is to devise a strategy by 2015 and, on that basis, to develop a programme of measures in the fields of human and animal health, agriculture and the environment in order to prevent the development of antibiotic resistance. 

Address for enquiries

Federal Veterinary Office
Regula Kennel, Head of Communications
Tel.: +41 (0)31 323 84 96


Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office