The Antibiotic Ban in Denmark: A Case Study on Politically Driven Bans
In the 1990s, the European Union made a political decision to phase out the use of antibiotics as growth promoters (AGPs). Denmark – with a pork industry roughly equivalent to the size of the pork herd in Iowa – led the way by instituting a full voluntary ban in 1998, and making it compulsory in 2000.
As there have been proposals in the U.S. Congress that would ban even more uses of antibiotics in animal agriculture, the Danish experience provides an interesting and instructive case study. The results have illustrated how counterproductive a sweeping ban can be, including several clear consequences, including:
- Increased death and disease among animals;
- Greater amounts of antibiotics used to treat animal disease, although overall use has decreased — total use declined by 26 percent between 1998 and 2009, while quantities used for therapeutic purposes increased 223 percent;
- While resistance to some antibiotics has decreased in animals, resistance to other antibiotics has gone up;
- Little evidence exists to suggest that antibiotic resistance in humans has declined, which was the purpose of the ban.
Bottom line: A ban on AGPs in Denmark has not had the intended benefit of reducing antibiotic resistance patterns in humans; it has had the unintended consequence of increasing animal suffering, pain and death.