Should Antibiotic Use Be Reduced through Incentives?

Antibiotic use could be curtailed through incentives that improve animal health. Most farmers are open to direct payments in support of this.

High antibiotic use in both human and veterinary medicine leads to resistance, and accordingly to increasing problems with treatment. With this in mind, in 2015 the Swiss Federal Council passed an Antibiotic Strategy, which affirmed, among others, that incentives should play an increasing role in reducing antibiotic use.

As part of a project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, Agroscope conducted two representative surveys among Swiss livestock owners. The first survey aimed to better understand the status quo of antibiotic use, and revealed that use in poultry production is very low. By contrast, almost one in two dairy cows is treated annually with antibiotics, especially during drying-off.

This survey resulted in the development, in partnership with farmers and vets, of potential programmes for reducing antibiotics use in animal husbandry. Most of these programmes chose the approach that involved improving the hygiene situation on the farms, e.g. via veterinary herd care, or the fattening of calves on the farm where they were born.

The second survey served to ascertain the acceptance of such programmes. The programme that awarded a bonus to the 25% of farmers with the lowest antibiotic use did the best. By contrast, the idea of subsidising the visit of expert teams on the farms was the least popular. The advised payment amount also played a role. Lastly, this survey also revealed that the existing PAS (‘Particularly Animal-Friendly Stabling’) and ROEL (‘Regular Outdoor Exercise for Livestock’) dairy animal welfare programmes are already having a positive impact on livestock health.

Twenty-two per cent of the respondents refused all of the suggested programmes. It was clear from their comments that this attitude was often based on a fundamental rejection of state intervention in animal health.

The project was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation as part of the National Research Programme ‘Antimicrobial Resistance’ (NRP 72).


  • State incentive programmes for improving livestock health conditions are particularly successful at leading to a further reduction in antibiotic use in agriculture.
  • The incentive programme awarding a bonus to the 25% of farmers with the lowest antibiotic use had the highest acceptance among farmers.
  • The existing animal welfare programmes PAS and ROEL are already having a positive impact on animal health, thereby contributing to a reduction in antibiotics use.
  • With the minority of farm managers who oppose the use of such programmes, however, it is only through legal requirements that progress will be made both now and in future.
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