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Jan-Hein Swagemakers: “The concerns about antibiotic resistance should be taken seriously, but not to a degree where it compromises animal welfare”

Friday, 10 September 2021

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “I think all animals should be able to be treated according to their needs, as long as it is clear which antibiotic is needed,” Jan-Hein Swagemakers says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



As of 28 January 2022, the European Union (EU) aims to ban certain antibiotics for animal use. This will have a huge impact on the veterinary treatment of horses, and the German Equestrian Federation is now acting – “It is an absolute must that sick horses can continue to be treated appropriately by veterinarians with relevant groups of antibiotics,” reads a statement on their website.

It’s EU regulation 2019/6 on veterinary medicinal products [and repealing Directive 2001/82/EC] that include the possibility to adopt supplementing delegated acts, and reserve certain antimicrobials for human use only. The European Medicine Agency’s “Criteria for the designation of antimicrobials to be reserved for treatment of certain infections in humans” details the advice on implementing the measures under the EU regulation. The full regulation with all its delegated acts should be fully operational in all EU member countries on 28 January 2022.

WoSJ asked German team vet Jan-Hein Swagemakers to explain more about how the new EU legislation will affect the equestrian community.

“Approving the EU’s suggested legislation would mean that we are not allowed to use antibiotics that may be necessary to save the lives of many animals,” Swagemakers says. “If I have a horse suffering from a certain infection – be it in the skin, in the airways, in the bowel, wherever – I would under the suggested EU regulations, not be able to treat it efficiently. This would cause these horses to suffer unnecessarily – or worse, it might claim lives. If certain cases cannot be treated, we may have fatalities – and this is wrong. If I know which antibiotic works against a certain disease – which is what we as vets test for – and use it responsibly, it can be lifesaving. And by this, I mean lifesaving not only in the long run for a single animal, but in the long run for all species. Reserving certain antibiotics for human use only is dangerous – not only for these individual horses, but for complete populations and all species.”

“The majority of all veterinarians are very much aware of the issue. The use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine is already strictly regulated: As I pointed out, vets need to take swabs to ensure that a certain antibiotic works before even prescribing it. Furthermore, most surgeries are done without the use of antibiotics. In my opinion, we already have very strict regulations in place and their implementation is being controlled fiercely – it’s something that the entire veterinarian community takes very seriously,” Swagemakers explains.

“I think all animals should be able to be treated according to their needs, as long as it is clear which antibiotic is needed,” Swagemakers continues. “Single random use of antibiotics is not correct, but to aim this regulation at all animals – including horses and companion animals, such as cats and dogs – is wrong. There needs to be an exemption, these animals should not be affected by this regulation. Addressing the risk of resistances and residues, we all know that nowadays horses are used less and less for slaughter aimed at human consumption. When it comes to companion animals and horses, antibiotic residue is not really an issue.”

“My personal opinion is that farm animals and poultry also should be given the same opportunity to be treated correctly, to avoid unnecessary suffering – this is a general animal welfare issue,” Swagemakers says. “Using the correct antibiotic for the disease in question is simply a duty we as humans have towards the animals – be it a horse, cat or cow.”

“The concerns over antibiotic resistances are well-founded, and should be taken seriously but not to a degree where it compromises animal welfare,” Swagemakers says. “It has been argued that over-use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine, especially in farm animals and poultry, has caused the problem of resistance. However, by now, this theory has been challenged and proven to be wrong. Modifications are needed.”

“It is important that the equestrian community reacts. The deadline for the European Commission to adopt the delegated act is 27 September 2021 – which they can do, if no objection has been expressed by the European Parliament or the Council. A petition has been launched, and I urge everyone to sign this,” Swagemakers closes off.


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