RUMA statement on the marketing of ‘Antibiotic Free’ produce

RUMA is urging caution around a recent move by at least one UK processor to label a line of farm produce as ‘antibiotic-free’ because of the misleading message it could convey to consumers and the potential ramifications on animal welfare.

Gwyn Jones, chair of RUMA, said the organisation was concerned that such a label could imply other products, by default, contain antibiotics, when all use of antibiotics in farm animals in the UK is strictly regulated and withdrawal periods observed to avoid presence in meat and milk.

He said: “For example, it would be irresponsible and wrong to imply a consumer would ‘ingest’ antibiotics from any farm produce when residue levels have been very tightly controlled for decades, or that UK farmers use such products for growth promotion when this practice has been banned in Europe for more than 10 years.”

But Mr Jones said that despite reservations, RUMA welcomed any advancements in hygiene and herd health that might support the development of such a label, and he hoped that with the issue of antibiotic resistance of such global, pre-competitive importance, the producers involved would be willing to share any best practice with the wider industry.

He also said that in the UK, consumers both encouraged and expected high standards of animal welfare in food production and vets needed to be able to treat illnesses appropriately and responsibly to help prevent pain and suffering.

“Any work to reduce, refine and replace use of antibiotics must be done without compromising health and welfare. This means reassurance is needed that such a label will not lead to treatment being delayed or avoided for sick animals, or that livestock in need of nothing more than a short course of medicine to recuperate will not be destroyed rather than treated.

“So while we recognise this is an opportunity for adding value, we want to reinforce to brand owners that they have an obligation to uphold welfare and avoid creating misunderstanding and concern amongst consumers by not acknowledging the strict rules already in place.”

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For further information contact RUMA Secretary General John FitzGerald (rumasec@btinternet.com) or see the RUMA website www.ruma.org.uk

For press enquiries contact Amy Jackson (amy@oxtale.co.uk, 01993 880360, 07917 773756)

 Notes to editors

 RUMA is a unique, independent non-profit group involving 24 organisations representing all stages of the animal food chain from ‘farm to fork’ that have an interest in the stewardship of animal medicines in agriculture. This reflects the importance of traceability, transparency and accountability at all points in the chain: from primary food production, through processing, manufacturing and retailing to the final consumer. Its membership includes organisations representing interests in agriculture, veterinary practice, animal medicines, farm assurance, training, food processing, retailing, consumers and the public, and animal welfare. RUMA has formulated comprehensive guidelines for the responsible use of antimicrobials in livestock production. These give advice on all aspects from application and responsibilities of the farmer and veterinary surgeon, to strategies for reduced usage. http://www.ruma.org.uk/antimicrobials/guidelines/  RUMA’s observers are the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). Its members are:

  • The Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC)
  • AHDB Beef and Lamb
  • AHDB Dairy
  • AHDB Pork
  • The Animal Health Distributors Association (AHDA UK Ltd)
  • Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority (AMTRA)
  • British Egg Industry Council (BEIC)
  • The British Poultry Council (BPC)
  • The British Retail Consortium (BRC)
  • British Veterinary Association (BVA)
  • City and Guilds Land Based Services
  • Dairy UK
  • The Game Farmers’ Association (GFA)
  • LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming)
  • The National Beef Association (NBA)
  • National Farmers’ Union (NFU)
  • The National Office of Animal Health (NOAH)
  • The National Pig Association (NPA)
  • National Sheep Association (NSA)
  • NFU Scotland
  • Red Tractor Assurance (RTA)
  • The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF)
  • Royal Pharmaceutical Society
  • The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)
  • The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO)
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