Archive for March, 2017

RUMA response to new Soil Association campaign

Surprise and disappointment have been expressed by RUMA over a new fundraising campaign launched by the Soil Association (now removed from the Soil Association website), which RUMA fears could set back the significant progress being made on reducing use of antibiotics across the UK farming industry.

RUMA, an independent agriculture and food industry alliance which has promoted responsible use of medicines in farm animals for over 20 years, has been driving the industry’s response to the challenge of antibiotic resistance while ensuring animal health and welfare is safeguarded.

Chair Gwyn Jones said he was taken aback, not just by the incorrect facts and lack of knowledge of industry progress in the campaign messages, but that the antibiotic resistance issue could be used as a vehicle to promote philosophical, commercial or fundraising objectives.

He said his biggest concern was the divisiveness of the campaign. “Denigrating certain farming systems is likely to alienate and demotivate the vast number of first-rate conventional farmers across the UK who are already implementing change in order to play their part in tackling this global issue. It’s probably not an approach many of our excellent organic farmers will feel entirely comfortable with either.

“Furthermore, antibiotic resistance is a One Health issue across human and animal medicine with good progress being made in both; efforts to divide along these lines too, when we should all be working together, are unhelpful.”

In response, he challenged the campaign group to end its obstructive approach, work with the wider agricultural industry on areas of mutual interest and acknowledge where headway was being made.

He said: “A 10% reduction in antibiotic sales into the farming industry in a single year, a halving in antibiotics prescribed in feed for young pigs, and poultry meat companies stopping all use of preventative antibiotics can only be described as remarkable progress and tremendous commitment from all involved.

“These changes are supported by vets as well as retailer and processor supply chains, who are already acutely aware of the issue of antibiotic resistance and are being both proactive and resourceful in enabling producers to make sustainable changes.

“Good hygiene, husbandry, housing and welfare, as identified by the Soil Association itself, are all factors in achieving these. But antibiotics, prescribed by a veterinary surgeon and used responsibly, also remain important medicines for preserving animal health and welfare.”

Mr Jones said while some campaign groups had fixed views on how farming should operate, they needed to recognise that livestock farming in the UK was broad and diverse, delivering healthy, affordable food while meeting high welfare standards.

“Attacking farming systems under the guise of campaigning to reduce antibiotics could lead to unintended consequences, such as the replacement of high quality and safe British food with cheaper imports,” he cautioned.

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Change in antibiotic use shows pig industry responding to resistance concerns

Figures newly released through RUMA suggest the UK pig sector is making significant changes in how it stewards antibiotic use in at least one key area, with a halving in prescribed antibiotics administered in feed for young pigs.

National data collected from the UK’s major feed compounders indicate that at the beginning of 2014, 37% of all feed for young pigs contained a prescribed antibiotic; this had more than halved to 18% by the end of 2016. Furthermore two thirds of the reduction took place in 2016, showing an increasing pace of change.

Paul Toplis representing the Agriculture Industries Confederation (AIC), which is a RUMA member, said that while the figures supplied by AIC members looked at just one area of the sector, antibiotic prescriptions dispensed through feed to young pigs did represent a large proportion of use. These data confirm action was being taken to change practices.

He said: “We are encouraged to see the rate of reduction in 2016 and this reflects the work between vets and farmers to make some courageous changes. Reducing reliance on antibiotics to treat and prevent disease spread could pose significant welfare challenges if not done with the right levels of care and skill.”

Mr Toplis added that some of the reductions appear to have been made possible by the use of zinc oxide, which when added to feed at medicinal levels can reduce the need for antibiotics in pigs by protecting the gut against E. coli bacteria.

The Pig Veterinary Society welcomed the news of the reductions and acknowledged the efforts of its practising members who regularly visit the herds in their care and work with pig farmers to promote responsible and reduced use of antibiotics.

The Society’s President Susanna Williamson said: “We cannot emphasise enough the importance of veterinary expertise and advice in assessing the disease risks and selecting suitable control options. These need to be tailor-made to suit each individual farm and the effects monitored to ensure that initiatives to reduce antibiotic treatment also promote good pig health and welfare.”

Georgina Crayford of the National Pig Association said its NPA Antibiotic Stewardship Programme, launched in 2016, had been helping drive behaviour change.

She said: “Among the programme’s recommendations are the capture of usage data on pig units, benchmarking use against similar farms, and supporting strict limits on the use of critically important antibiotics. We look forward to seeing the wider effects on use as data trends from the AHDB’s e-Medicine Book, also launched last year, start to come through later in 2017.”

John FitzGerald from RUMA, the independent agricultural and food industry alliance which promotes responsible use of medicines in farm animals, welcomed the results and said they were indicative of the wider industry commitment to reductions.

He said: “These data show there is a clear drive to use antibiotics more responsibly and to work alongside the human medical community in reducing, refining and replacing use of antibiotics globally – as well as building on the successful 10% reduction in UK farm animal use in 2015.”

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RUMA response to report that colistin prescriptions for humans have increased and new farm animal products have been licensed

A recent article in the Telegraph about ‘soaring antibiotic resistance’ and increases in prescriptions of colistin mentioned that three new colistin drugs had been licensed for use for farm animals in 2016.

Here, John FitzGerald, RUMA secretary general, explains the context around colistin use in farming:

“RUMA members agreed voluntary restrictions on colistin shortly after E. coli resistant to colistin was found in China in late 2015. The agreement was to only use colistin after antibiotic sensitivity testing had shown it was the last effective antibiotic available for treating the sick animal. Initially, this was pending the results of a revised EU risk assessment. But since then, the UK pig, poultry meat and cattle sectors have implemented their own long term restrictions, with the poultry meat sector stopping use altogether in 2016.”

Neither colistin nor any other antibiotic is authorised as an animal growth promoter in the UK or anywhere in the EU. Veterinary Medicine Directorate data already show that UK sales of colistin are amongst the lowest in Europe at 0.12mg/PCU against the European Medicines Agency recommendation of 1mg/PCU; it is hoped the restrictions imposed since then will have resulted in further reductions for 2016.

Mr FitzGerald says: “The low level of use in the UK may be why only very low levels of bacterial resistance (in 0.6% of isolates tested from fattening pigs) were reported for colistin in 2015. However, the relationship between antibiotic use and the development of resistance is a complex one and not always directly correlated.”

He adds that provided vets and farmers continue to prescribe and use antibiotics responsibly, then availability of more products containing an already-available antibiotic shouldn’t affect usage levels. “But it is worth bearing in mind that use of colistin will be closely scrutinised going forward, and vets and farmers together must ensure they are delivering on their commitments.”

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