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Response to statement issued by Shadow Secretary Kerry McCarthy on antibiotic use in farming

In response to a speech yesterday from Kerry McCarthy, Shadow Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on use of antibiotics in agriculture, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) says:

“We welcome the shadow minister’s focus on the issue of antibiotic resistance and note her position on the role targets can play. Whilst there are many risks involved with target setting we can confirm that the UK livestock sector, through RUMA, has already agreed that it is keen to work with the authorities and appropriate specialists to develop meaningful, evidence-based targets on the use of antibiotics in farming.

“To achieve this, more evidence on actual usage of antibiotics and the impact of any reductions is essential to avoid the risk of setting inappropriate targets, which could be counterproductive and even lead to increased risk of resistance.

“RUMA also welcomes Ms McCarthy’s recognition that interventions in antibiotic use are not without consequence. Any benefits for public health need to be balanced against the impact of restricted antibiotic use on animal welfare, the economic viability of our farms and overall UK food security. Badly handled, there is a real risk we will end up importing produce which increases risk to human health if our own, highly-regulated industry is rendered unviable through arbitrary curbs.

“RUMA believes the best course of action is to move away from a fixation with reducing antibiotic use alone and help farmers improve animal health, reduce bacterial diseases and their need to use antibiotics. One route is for food businesses to work closely with their supply chains to give farmers the confidence, means and support to make any necessary changes. Another would be government support for accessing EU funding streams to help UK producers upgrade old buildings and invest in new technology.

“However, RUMA challenges Ms McCarthy’s statement that higher use of antibiotics in farming is undermining their effectiveness in human medicine. Recent reports have indicated antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans and animals is – for the most part – genetically different[i],ii,iii; another study has confirmed farm animal use could be responsible for as few as one in every 370 clinical cases[iv].

“Despite this, resistance is a threat in animals too and the farming industry, as well as those looking after the health of horses and pets, must ‘do its bit’ to control spread.

“The UK livestock sector is actively looking at the lessons it can learn from other countries experiences in reducing antibiotic use.  However, direct comparisons are never simple. It should be remembered that the Danish government invested heavily to allow its pig farmers to build new high-health premises, and in reducing its antibiotic usage by nearly 60%, the Netherlands is now at approximately the same level of use as the UK.”

[i] de Been M, et al. (2014) Dissemination of Cephalosporin Resistance Genes between Escherichia coli Strains from Farm Animals and Humans by Specific Plasmid Lineages. PLoS Genet 10(12): http://www.plosgenetics.org/mwginternal/de5fs23hu73ds/progress?id=MeH9AuPYQD&dl

ii Mather A, et al. (Sept 27, 2013) Distinguishable epidemics of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 in different hosts. Sciencexpress, https://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6153/1514.full.pdf

iii Wu G, et al. (2013), Comparative Analysis of ESBL-Positive Escherichia coli Isolates from Animals and Humans from the UK, The Netherlands and Germany. PLoS ONE 8(9): e75392. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075392

http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0075392&representation=PDF

iv Burch, D. 2015 – Use of antibiotics in animals and people. November 28, 2015, Veterinary Record, 549-550 doi:10.1136/vr.h6380

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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 FOR EDITORS

  1. RUMA is an alliance of 24 organisations representing every stage of the “farm to fork” process which aims to promote a co-ordinated and integrated approach to best practice in the use of medicines on farm.
  1. 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. https://www.ruma.org.uk/antimicrobials/guidelines/

Response Statement re “Investors urge food companies to reduce farm antibiotics”

In response to a recent report that a group of investors has contacted food companies asking them to ‘stop their meat and poultry suppliers using antibiotics vital for human health’, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) says:

“We recognise concerns about growing resistance to antibiotics, but in humans, resistance is largely attributed to human medical use[i] with a recent study confirming farm animal use could be responsible for as few as one in every 370 clinical cases[ii]. Despite this, resistance is a threat in animals too and the farming industry, as well as those looking after the health of horses and pets, must ‘do its bit’ to control spread.

“The concept that food companies work sustainably with their supply chains to reduce the need for antibiotic use in farm animals is welcomed by RUMA; this is already happening.  However, it’s critical that potential impacts on welfare, food safety, product quality and investment are fully understood by the businesses involved so that farmers have the confidence, means and support to make any necessary changes.

“It is equally important this issue does not end up being exploited as a marketing tool. There is a risk that misrepresentation of facts and a failure to appreciate the situation in different countries could end up harming welfare, cause unnecessary suffering and lead to significant losses in our farm livestock sector.

“For example, while a reported 70% of antibiotics in the US might be used to tackle disease challenges in farm animals, it’s only 40% in the UK, with Public Health England figures[iii] showing medical use of antibiotics is actually 2.4 times that of veterinary, based on kg per biomass (i.e. when corrected for number and weight of animals and people).  Furthermore, use of antibiotics as growth promoters has been banned in the EU since 2006; antibiotics are only available in the UK on prescription from vets; and the industry has already opted for restrictions to use a number of antibiotics classed as critically important for human health, such as 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones and colistin, only when truly necessary.”

[i] The European Medicines Agency Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use (CVMP) says in its draft strategy on antimicrobials that: “it is recognized that the biggest driver of AMR in people is the use of antimicrobials in humans or human health.”  Other publications, such as the UK Department of Health 5 Year Strategy on Antimicrobial Resistance, published in 2013, contain similar statements. It stated that whilst antibiotic use in animals is an important factor that: “Increasing scientific evidence suggests that the clinical issues with antimicrobial resistance that we face in human medicine are primarily the result of antibiotic use in people, rather than the use of antibiotics in animals.”

[ii] Burch, D. 2015 – Use of antibiotics in animals and people. November 28, 2015, Veterinary Record, 549-550 doi:10.1136/vr.h6380

[iii] UK One Health Report Joint Report on Human and Animal Antibiotic Use, Sales and Resistance 2013 Public Health England https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/447319/One_Health_Report_July2015.pdf

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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 FOR EDITORS

  1. RUMA is an alliance of 24 organisations representing every stage of the “farm to fork” process which aims to promote a co-ordinated and integrated approach to best practice in the use of medicines on farm.

 

  1. 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. https://www.ruma.org.uk/antimicrobials/guidelines/
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