In salmon, as with all animal production, antibiotic use helps to restore animal health, and to secure effective treatment of bacterial infections.
In Chile antibiotics are used to restore animal health due to SRS (Salmonid Rickettsial Septicaemia), a salmon disease endemic in Chile and practically nonexistent in other salmon producer countries. Antibiotics are prescribed by certified veterinarians to improve the fish health and ensure animal welfare, while national authorities helps to control and meet food safety requirements in the over 70 markets where Chilean salmon is consumed.
Chilean salmon comply with specific withdrawal periods and stand below SERNAPESCA and FDA thresholds.
Antibiotics are used to treat diseases for which the use of effective vaccines is not enough and also to counteract mortality and infection spread. All treatments are prescribed by certified veterinarians to restore animal health and the use on a preventive basis or as a growth promoter is banned.
In 2018 antibiotic use per million grams (1 ton) of harvested Chilean salmon, mainly to combat SRS and other diseases, stood at a low 383 g or 0.038%. Overall use was lowest than 2017.
Bacterial infections must be treated with antibiotics, despite the concerns about the potential development of resistance to these drugs in humans.
Over 15 types of antibiotics can be used across the aquaculture industry worldwide. In Chile, SRS prevention relies on vaccination and his control relies mostly on florfenicol and oxytetracycline use. In 2018, 95% of salmon treated with antibiotics used florfenicol, a drug specifically developed for veterinary purposes and not used for human treatment in the world. The remaining 4,9% of treatment used oxytetracycline, which may be used in humans but is not listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an essential drug for treatments in humans.
Critically important antibiotics listed by World Health Organization are not used in Pincoy farming sites.
Breeders strive for optimal health and sanitation conditions. Antibiotic-free claims in some products, notably organic, may suggest that they are unwarranted. But the fact remains that regardless of approach, animals will get sick, just as people do.
Used effectively, antibiotics are a key tool for breeders and veterinarians to restore animal health and welfare. As most antibiotics are used in animals or humans but rarely in both, the belief that medically significant antibiotics are being used in food animals has no basis in fact.
In actual fact, drug-resistant infections are mostly acquired in hospitals and health care centers, where widespread use of antibiotics means that more drug-resistant bacteria are present in the environment.
Farmed salmon differs from poultry, pork, beef, lamb and other sources of protein in that it grows in vast volumes of water connected to the surrounding environment. Fish are clustered in pens in large numbers, and depending on local ocean conditions, management can be a highly complex proposition. As poikilotherms whose body temperature matches that of their surroundings, salmon are directly and immediately exposed to seasonal and climate change variations (i.e., rising ocean temperatures, harmful algal blooms, oxygen level drops, etc.) which impact their health status. In other food animals these factors can be better controlled.