Global animal health market set to reach $44.2 billion by 2020, driven by antibiotic alternatives, according to Informa's Agribusiness Intelligence

Informa's Agribusiness Intelligence, the provider of news, data, analysis and forecasts across the agricultural and commodities value chain, has outlined its predictions for the animal health market.

The animal health market continues to grow and is set to reach $44.2 billion by 2020 but producers are looking at ways to reduce antibiotic use through better management and new technologies. Resistance remains a cause for concern with overuse still suspected as an issue in countries like China where the demand for meat has increased significantly in recent years as GDP has increased.

The global use of antibiotics in animal production

A very large quantity of antibiotics is used in animal production as it is an effective way of ensuring high quality, low cost food of animal origin for human consumption. The total market for animal health products is reported to be almost USD 30 million in 2014 and is expected to reach at least USD 44.2 billion by 2020. Antibiotics are typically used for three purposes in animals: growth promotion, disease prevention and to cure an existing disease. Antibiotic growth promoters were banned in the EU in 2006 and it is likely that there will be a worldwide ban in future, whereas continued improvements in animal husbandry management will lead to decreased antibiotic use for disease prevention.

Key global markets driving demand

Throughout the world the driving trend behind animal antibiotic use has been growing production and demand for meat. According to the most recent figures from 2015, the UK used 407.7 tonnes of antibiotics compared to 15,358 tonnes used by the US. This is despite a growing trend toward vegan, vegetarian and 'flexitarian' habits amongst more affluent consumers.

In developing nations such as Russia, Brazil, India and China the growth has been the starkest as GDP and disposable income for food has increased in recent years. China in particular has very substantial utilisation of antibiotics in animal production, with one estimate claiming that nearly half of the 210,000 tonnes of antibiotics produced in China are given to food animals[1]. While the majority of countries use antibiotics responsibly, there are suggestions that China's prolific use of antibiotics in pork production is now leading to antibiotic resistance in consumers.

Human resistance and alternatives

The widespread use of antibiotics causes two problems: firstly there is the risk that antibiotic residues may be found in humans and secondly is the development of antibiotic resistance in pathogenic micro-organisms. Generally if antibiotics are used as recommended they should not create residues in food products but antibiotic resistance is a bigger problem.

Antibiotic use in animals is more than double that used by humans and food animals continue to show resistance to the most commonly used antimicrobials. Intensively farmed species like pigs, poultry and veal calves have very high antibiotic use whereas this is much lower for animals raised on pasture such as sheep and cows. Since the ban of antibiotic growth promoters in the EU there has been an increased focus on the use of a wide range of feed ingredients and additives as a replacement. These include feed enzymes, prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, organic acids and phytochemicals which have been quite successful when combined with feed additives and improved management.

Alan Bullion, Special Reports Director at Informa's Agribusiness Intelligence concludes: The animal health market will grow driven by animal medicine, vaccines and antibiotic alternatives, with antibiotics set to play a smaller role. However, at present there is no 'silver bullet' to replace antibiotics in animal production. Several products such as antimicrobial peptides, phages and vaccines are promising, yet the most successful replacement for antibiotics will be high quality nutrition and good management forming part of robust disease prevention strategies."

[1] Collignon and Voss 2015

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