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The Responsible Use of Veterinary Medicines in Aquatic Food Production

Health Water quality Food safety & handling +5 more

Melba B. Reantaso, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), looks at the responsible use of veterinary medicines in aquatic food production. Taken from the MSD Animal Health 'Bacterial Disease in Warmwater Fish: New Strategies for Sustainable Control' proceedings.



Globalization of the aquatic animal product trade and intensified aquatic animal production are among the trends contributing to new market opportunities for the aquatic farming industry, including warmwater fish. These trends, however, have also contributed to the spread of aquatic pathogens and diseases, which are a primary constraint to the culture of many aquatic species. Chronic diseases hinder performance and profits by resulting in reduced growth, feedconversion rates and survival, while acute disease outbreaks have the potential to cause mass mortality and devastate an entire aquaculture enterprise.

Although the ability to manage aquaculture health issues has increased tremendously in the last 30 years, the rapid development of the aquaculture industry continuously generates new challenges. The result is an increased reliance on veterinary medicines1 to help ensure successful production by preventing and treating disease outbreaks.

Use of Veterinary Medicines in Aquaculture

Without question, veterinary medicines have many benefits if used responsibly. They enable the development of industrial-scale food production systems necessary to feed society and improve financial gain for investors.

Veterinary medicines make it possible to increase production efficiency and minimize land, water, feed and other resources that are required to produce a unit of aquatic food. They are essential to modern aquaculture production because, when used wisely, they can improve on-farm biosecurity and husbandry, and help sustain the industry.

On the other hand, the misuse of veterinary medicines could have negative effects on human food safety and free trade. Some veterinary medicines used in aquaculture, such as chloramphenicol, have been shown to have potentially harmful effects on human health and have been banned, reducing the already limited arsenal of drugs available for disease treatment. The detection of chloramphenicol in internationally traded shrimp caused a slowdown of imports, resulting in economic losses to producers and their governments.

Other concerns regarding the inappropriate or misuse of veterinary medicines include the potential for drug residues in food, the development of resistant pathogens and negative environmental impact.

These concerns have contributed to the evolution of some profound changes in the development and use of veterinary medicines in aquaculture and other food-producing industries.

Shared Responsibility

In general, it can be stated that the global trend is toward more stringent and uniform standards and a more prudent and responsible use of veterinary medicines by the aquaculture industry.

Most markets now have regulations dictating acceptable residue levels that also address environmental safety. Improved surveillance and technology have significantly increased the ability to detect trace amounts of banned or restricted substance residues, leading to improved detection levels.

Animal health product manufacturers are playing a key role in the responsible use of veterinary medicines. One contribution is the development of drugs that have been specifically researched, developed and approved for use exclusively in veterinary medicine. An example is the broad-spectrum antibiotic florfenicol.

The development of veterinary pharmaceuticals or vaccines for aquaculture and other food-producing industries requires a high level of investment, expertise and documentation; a huge amount of work and extensive testing goes into ensuring that an active compound or vaccine antigen is safe and efficacious for animals, humans and the environment and that it will meet all regulatory requirements.

The manufacturing process involves heightened quality control checks for each stage of manufacturing, and compliance with the process and procedures is key to ensuring the consistency and reliability of the medicine being produced. Improved quality control programs are critical for on-farm performance but also help ensure that fish products are safe and wholesome for human consumption.

When a farm uses a registered medicine in the correct way and follows guidelines for withdrawal, it can be confident that use of the product will not result in harmful residues or cause disruptions in the trade of foods. This is why it is important for aquaculture producers to use approved, branded veterinary medicines instead of raw drugs or chemicals.

The role of the animal health manufacturer does not end with release of the product. The company must also monitor any unexpected problems such as adverse reactions that may arise in the field.

Producers and aquatic animal health professionals, of course, play a critical role in the prudent and responsible use of veterinary medicines in aquaculture. They are increasingly aware of the need to avoid using medicines, especially antibiotics, that are essential to human medicine. There is also increased awareness about the benefits of susceptibility testing to ensure the appropriate use of antibiotics. Susceptibility testing demonstrates whether or not a given antibiotic will be effective against the pathogen causing a disease outbreak.

Preventive health management is also contributing to more prudent and responsible use of veterinary medicines in aquaculture. Consider the maturation of the salmon industry in Norway or yellowtail culture in Japan, where vaccination and improved husbandry have reduced the aquaculture industrys reliance on veterinary therapeutics to achieve improved production and profitability.


In summation, the responsibility for the prudent and responsible use of veterinary medicines in aquaculture must be shared by aquaculture stakeholders.

Governments have a key role to play, as do producers, health professionals, product manufacturers and consumers. A major responsibility for government and the public sector is to develop and implement good aquaculture practices; laws and regulations pertaining to the manufacture, licensing and use of veterinary medicines should be made in consultation with relevant private-sector stakeholders in a transparent manner and in line with international standards and guidelines. Rather than further restrictions, more prudent and responsible use of veterinary medicines could be achieved by better enforcement of current regulations and improved health extension support to aquaculture farmers.

The responsible use of veterinary medicines is not only essential to the health and safety of animals, consumers and the environment, but to the sustainability of commercial aquaculture production. The use of such medicines should be part of national and on-farm health and biosecurity plans, conducted in accordance with an overall national policy for aquatic animal health management and sustainable aquaculture.

September 2012

This article contains information on veterinary pharmaceutical and biological animal health products based on international registration dossiers. It may refer to products that are either not available in your country or are marketed under a different trade name. In addition, the safety and efficacy data and the withholding periods for a specific product may be different depending on local regulations. Consult the the regulatory and technical information on available veterinary drugs in your country.