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Reducing antibiotic use should be win, win for farmers

The Government has published a plan to contain and control antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in health, animals, the environment and the food chain.

The plan sets out these targets:

  • Cut the number of drug-resistant infections by 10% (5,000 infections) by 2025
  • Reduce the use of antibiotics in humans by 15%
  • Prevent at least 15,000 patients from contracting infections as a result of their healthcare each year by 2024
  • Reduce antibiotic use in animals by 25% by 2020 (from that used in 2016).1

Why reduce antibiotic use in animals?

AMR, resulting from the inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans, is a massive threat to global human health as it threatens our ability to treat simple infections, thereby increasing the risk of sepsis. It is essential that we raise awareness of the importance of responsible antibiotic use in humans.2 Overuse of antibiotics in livestock threatens human health, as herds and flocks can build up resistant bacteria that can be passed on to us.3

Dr Michele Wilson, PhD, Endocrinology and Science writer for Technology Networks, says, ‘Quantifying the threat of AMR-development in agriculture on human health is extremely difficult, but the consensus is that the risk does exist, and that it makes sense to take policy steps now. It’s really important that we take a holistic view as we try to combat the threat of AMR – this includes considering the effects of agricultural antibiotic use on animal health, the environment, and human health. Also, there’s a massive opportunity for the development of appropriate diagnostic tools, both for humans and animals – that would be a game-changer.' 

How do farmers reach a 25% reduction target by 2020?

While the target for reducing antibiotic use in animals might seem high, we’re well on our way already. There are fewer antibiotics used in UK farming than in many parts of the world, and no antibiotic growth promotion permitted here at all. All antibiotics must be prescribed by a vet and used only to treat or prevent the spread of disease to maintain the health and welfare of an animal. The poultry sector, driven by the level of consumption of chicken, has a huge bearing on UK farm antibiotics policy. As a result, during the last 4 to 5 years use in the poultry sector has been reduced by a staggering 70%.

Lloyd Jones, partner and veterinarian at Bishop Castle Vets, Shropshire, is comfortable that our Red Tractor Scheme and the production standards it sets helps to drive down the use of antibiotics on farm. Under Red Tractor, each livestock sector is already working towards specific targets for reducing antibiotics.

What changes should farmers expect on farm?

While we’ve been ahead of the game in many ways, there is still some way to go – particularly in the pig and poultry sectors. Some EU countries have already adopted more stringent policies in respect of any prophylactic use (intended to prevent disease), so farmers here should be prepared for similar changes. Vets like Jones have been instructed to reduce the use of medicines of critical high importance unless justified. Farmers should expect even less reliance upon antibiotics, and eventually phasing out prophylactic use. The industry risks losing the medicines it has, should it fail to adapt and comply with targets.

Jones expects to see a reduction in blanket treatment of stock where possible, and improved animal husbandry including increased focus on:

  • Vaccination
  • Improved management
  • Improved housing and shelter

Ultimately, UK farming is a long way down the road to meeting obligations the Government are requesting. In fact, Jones is confident that if handled properly, the proposed changes will benefit farmers with better disease control, more affordable healthcare and better animal health.

 

Sources

1 gov.uk/government/news/antimicrobial-resistance-uk-launches-5-year-action-plan-and-20-year-vision

2 Dr Michele Wilson, PhD, Endocrinology and Science writer for Technology Networks

3 theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/27/uk-could-use-brexit-to-avoid-eu-ban-on-antibiotics-overuse-in-farming


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