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RCVS Knowledge launches new SMART goals tool to improve antimicrobial use

Veterinary charity RCVS Knowledge is pleased to announce the launch of its Farm Vet Champions SMART goals tool, which allows veterinary teams who treat farm animals to set goals to help target, track and improve their antimicrobial prescribing.

The new tool is an addition to the Farm Vet Champions programme, which supports veterinary teams with knowledge and resources to ensure antimicrobials are used responsibly for the benefit of animals, the public and society. The new resource is completely free and available through the RCVS Knowledge Learn platform.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a growing global crisis that puts us all at risk of developing untreatable and potentially fatal infections. AMR is no longer a silent pandemic; it is vital that we use antimicrobials responsibly before millions of lives are lost.

Since Farm Vet Champions launched in May 2021, almost 700 Farm Vet Champions have had access to its free, on-demand CPD covering species-specific modules, behaviour change and communications and the legal use of veterinary medicines, in a variety of formats, including articles, webinars and podcasts.

The new SMART goals tool will provide additional to help veterinary teams, to turn their learning into action and help them manage their antimicrobial use in practice.

Fiona Lovatt, Farm Vet Champions Clinical Lead, says: “I am so excited to see the launch of our SMART goal tool. It is both engaging and simple to use, and I expect it will encourage practice teams to motivate each other to track their progress in their stewardship activities.

“I am extremely grateful to the experienced team at RCVS Knowledge as well as our dedicated steering group from across the veterinary and agricultural organisations who have partnered with us to develop this amazing resource.

“It is such a critical time to ensure we are using antimicrobials responsibly so that they will work when patients really need them. We all have a responsibility to fight antimicrobial resistance. The good news is there is a lot we can do – one of those things is getting involved with Farm Vet Champions, enhancing our skills and adapting our practice.”

Fraser Broadfoot, Head of Antibiotic Use and Stewardship Team at Veterinary Medicines Directorate, says: “We are really supportive of this important initiative. In the UK we have seen a 52% reduction in antibiotic use for food producing animals since 2014, and this has been driven by vets and farmers working together to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics and with a strong focus on disease prevention. However, as highlighted in the RUMA sector targets, there are still areas where improvements can be made and where antibiotic use data is lacking.

“Driving forward positive changes is extremely rewarding, but can also be challenging. This SMART goals tool therefore provides an easy-to-use and practical resource that is designed to help and motivate vets and practice teams to set, monitor and accomplish goals and build on the tremendous progress that they have already achieved.  This will not only help the livestock sectors to achieve their targets, but will result in improvements in animal health and, by reducing the burden of resistant bacteria, have public health benefits too.”

RCVS Knowledge offers a broad range of resources and initiatives on AMR. For more information on Farm Vet Champions, please click here.

Livestock Vaccination Guideline provides a new vision and guidance for animal health industry

NOAH has launched the Livestock Vaccination Guideline, providing support to vets, SQPs and farmers, to help improve the health and welfare of UK sheep and cattle and support farm resilience and sustainable improvements in productivity.

Preventing and controlling disease on farm has never been more important, in the face of new agriculture policies, evolving disease challenges, new trading arrangements and the urgent need to meet environmental sustainability goals in response to climate change. Healthier animals mean better welfare and more sustainable farming. A preventative health approach for UK livestock, supported through vaccination, is an integral part of achieving this.

The new NOAH guideline brings together current veterinary clinical experience and research to demonstrate a proactive, best practice approach to vaccination in the dairy, beef and sheep sectors. The guideline encourages discussion between vets and farmers to help them apply effective vaccination strategies on farm, catalysing change to ensure that the benefits from livestock vaccination are realised.

At the launch of the guideline Dawn Howard, Chief Executive of NOAH, along with the authors of the guidance, Jonathan Statham, Fiona Lovatt and Joe Henry, discussed the importance of an effective livestock vaccination strategy, and how vaccines must be utilised to their best advantage to keep our animals and ourselves, healthy.

This NOAH Guideline supports UK animal health and welfare ambitions, food security and safety and advances the competitiveness of the produce from our livestock. The Livestock Vaccination Guideline is available here.

Dawn Howard, Chief Executive of NOAH said:

“Prevention of disease is at the heart of NOAH’s vision for animal health and welfare in UK farming and our Livestock Vaccination Guideline aims to ensure that those who make decisions about animal health and vaccination across the industry and on the farm have access to best practice guidance.

“We are focusing on priority diseases and those conditions where increased uptake of vaccination can make a real difference to the level of disease across animal populations.

“This will not only help improve health and welfare on individual farms but also help raise health and welfare levels across the whole country, meaning UK farming will be better equipped to provide safe, high-quality and nutritious food, while also delivering the environmental benefits from healthier animals.

“Livestock vaccination can be complex, but  provides huge benefits, not just for animal health and welfare, but also has a positive impact on food, economic and job security in the UK. Having the right tools, medicines and technology to provide adequate prevention, diagnostics, monitoring and treatment has never been more important.

“We would like to thank Jonathan Statham, Fiona Lovatt and Joe Henry for their extensive work in bringing together the insight and expertise needed for this comprehensive document.

“As well as helping ensure the vaccines we have available today are used most effectively, NOAH members are working on pioneering new vaccines for existing diseases, including those which can help against disease that may develop in the future, benefiting not only animals, but also humans.”

 Jonathan Statham, Chair of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England said:

“Vaccination can have a major positive impact on animal health and welfare, One Health and sustainable farming, but how well is the true potential of vaccination really being harnessed and how can we improve our current approach? To answer this question requires a fresh and challenging review of current practice, which is what this guideline aims to achieve.”

 Fiona Lovatt, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons recognised specialist in sheep health said:

“The last couple of years have demonstrated the key importance of vaccination as a tool to ensure good human health. In a similar way, vaccination has a vital role to play in terms of ensuring good health, welfare, productivity and sustainability of our livestock herds and flocks.”

 Joe Henry, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons recognised advanced practitioner said:

“Vaccination has many roles to play in delivering more profitable, sustainable, and higher welfare beef production, from helping to achieve good fertility in beef cows to reducing the impact of disease in calves, ranging from slow growth rates, morbidity and mortality.”

NOAH-Livestock-Vaccination-Guidance-2022_v4.pdf

The BPC shares with RUMA its reflections on the past ten years of Antibiotic Stewardship and its dedication to continually evolving

In the fifth and final part of features about the Poultry Meat sector, highlighting the sector’s 10 years of antibiotic stewardship, British Poultry Council (BPC) Technical Director Máire Burnett, shares with RUMA the sector’s reflections on the past ten years of antibiotic stewardship and looks ahead to the future.

BPC Technical Director, Máire Burnett, says:

‘Poultry makes up half of the meat on Britain’s plates. That means we are in a unique position of responsibility: as producers of safe and nutritious food, as employers creating jobs in communities, and as experts in bird health and welfare. Operating to world class standards is at the heart of our production systems. 

Our Stewardship makes stuff happen. It is a very simple thing to say, but there is a lot wrapped up in committing as a collective to bring around the change you want to see. Over the past ten years, we have seen effective solutions optimise our systems. Our vets prescribe the most appropriate treatment for our birds, with no compromise to their health and welfare. On-farm management practices are continuously reviewed to safeguard the efficacy of antibiotics and produce food consumers trust. We are leading the way in the sustainable use of antibiotics and have carved the path for other sectors, both in the UK and globally, to follow suit. That is something to be proud of.RUMA Maire Burnett 

The scrutiny that comes with stewardship is pretty special. It gives us the space to focus on the important stuff. If we are looking at the sustainability of our food system and preserving the efficacy of our antibiotics, this means building into the trust consumers have in our food and the systems that produce it.

We are operating to a level that is expected of us but, most importantly, a level that we expect of ourselves. We are open about what we value in our systems, and the transparency that comes as a result of scrutiny, has given us the right results. We rear a billion birds a year for tables across the nation and none of them receive preventative routine treatment. Usage has dropped by 74% in ten years whilst production continues to increase. That is not to say we are done yet. BPC’s Stewardship has demonstrated what is possible. We are dedicated to evolving because it is that mentality, which is core to the Stewardship, to making stuff happen.   

Saying that, the backdrop we are working against is also evolving. We have left the EU and that collective commitment to lead the way via the Stewardship will be tested by trade challenges. There is a balance to strike between the food we produce at home and where imports enter the picture. What we take with us moving forward is that it is not just about what others do. It is about what we have done to get this far in bird health and welfare, and what we want to achieve. Responsible British producers prioritise the bird, value standards and back scientific progress. That commitment is one we should expect from all our trading partners. 

Accelerating into this next era of the BPC Stewardship, we will continue our work by refining our systems and upholding our position at the forefront of international efforts to tackle resistance. At the bedrock of a sustainable food system are transparency and accountability: these in combination underpin our commitment to producing safe, affordable, nutritious food, without compromise to our values or our standards.’

The BPC shares with RUMA the core principles of delivering good welfare

In the fourth part of RUMA’s spotlight on the Poultry Meat sector, the BPC shares with us the core principles of delivering good welfare.

RUMA spoke with Chief Executive of the British Poultry Council, Richard Griffiths, who talked us through the key welfare foundations.

Mr Griffiths says: “A billion birds are reared for food every year in the UK, making up around half the meat the country eats. The British poultry meat sector influences some of the most pressing social issues of our time, from food security to nutritional health, from animal health and welfare to ensuring everyone has access to safe, wholesome and nutritious food.

“Our world-class farming and animal welfare standards are at the heart of the sector’s contribution towards feeding the nation. We take pride in our commitment to deliver excellence in bird health and welfare; to ensure responsible use of antibiotics, and to safeguard the efficacy of antibiotics – having ourselves as ‘pathfinders’ for other food and farming sectors in the UK and across the world.”

Mr Griffiths outlines below the guiding principles for delivering excellence in bird health and welfare:

 

BPC

Data collection

The poultry meat sector was the first UK livestock sector to collect and share antibiotic usage data with the Government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). Data collected by the BPC is published every year as part of the UK-Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS) Report. The BPC collects and monitors usage of all antibiotic classes in the UK poultry meat industry to promote best practice throughout the supply chain.

 

Rapid on farm diagnostics

We want to use diagnostic and sensitivity testing tools used in human medicine to better map bird health and welfare, evaluate the impact of disease control programmes and implement robust surveillance. We are keeping a watchful eye on any new innovations to develop a methodology for rapid on-farm diagnostics to increase speed of antibiotic sensitivity testing and ensure early diagnosis.

 

Sharing best practice

By using antibiotics responsibly and remaining transparent by sharing learnings and success stories, BPC members (who represent 90% of UK poultry meat production) openly communicate their actions and share best practice in a precompetitive way.

 

Understanding patterns of resistance

The British poultry meat sector is committed to supporting scientific research into examining the link between antibiotic use and resistance in the poultry production chain, understanding patterns of transmission, and tackling antimicrobial resistance

 

Looking at alternative strategies

The British poultry meat sector is committed to keeping pace with science and innovation and exploring alternatives to antibiotics.

 

Mr Griffiths adds: “We prioritise the health of our birds without the need for routine use of antibiotics and ensure successful delivery of the three essentials of stockmanship.”

 

The three essentials of stockmanship

  • KNOWLEDGE of animal husbandry
  • SKILLS in animal husbandry
  • PERSONAL QUALITIES of the stockman

 

Cornerstones of responsible use 

  • REPLACE, REDUCE AND REFINE… These are the cornerstones of our Stewardship and are implemented by our people at every step of the production chain.
  • REPLACE Review and replace antibiotics used where effective alternatives are available.
  • REDUCE Reducing the number of birds receiving treatment, through systems based on risk assessments.
  • REFINE Continue to refine existing strategies, using data collection.

The British Poultry Council shares with RUMA some of the most frequently asked questions about antibiotics

In the third part of our focus on the poultry meat sector and its significant achievements in the reduction of and responsible use of antibiotics, we asked BPC Technical Director, Máire Burnett, to share some of the most frequently asked questions regarding antibiotic use.

Below, Máire clarifies misconceptions and dispels some of the common myths about antibiotic usage.

 

Q: Is zero use of antibiotics ever possible?

British poultry farmers and vets need antibiotics in their toolbox. Delivering excellence in bird health and welfare is the foundation of the responsible use of antibiotics and is about much more than reduction targets.

In the last 10 years we have stopped all preventative treatments, and the highest priority antibiotics that are critically important for humans are used only as a ‘last resort’ for chickens and turkeys.

Zero use is neither ethical nor sustainable as it goes against a farmer’s and vet’s duty to the animals in their care to address any health and welfare issues.

 

Q: What is the story behind BPC Antibiotic Stewardship?

The British Poultry Council (BPC) Antibiotic Stewardship scheme was established in 2011 to ensure sustainable use of antibiotics; to protect the health and welfare of our birds; to safeguard the efficacy of antibiotics; to produce food consumers’ trust. As a result, we became the first UK livestock sector to pioneer a data collection mechanism and share antibiotic usage data with the government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

Through our Stewardship, the sector is delivering excellence in bird health and welfare by monitoring and reviewing on-farm management practices and ensuring responsible use of antibiotics throughout our supply chain.

The British Poultry Council’s Antibiotic Stewardship has led the way in understanding the sector’s use of antibiotics and delivered an 80.2% reduction in the overall use of antibiotics as well as an 82.6% reduction in the use of Critically Important Antibiotics (CIAs) for human health.

We’re committed to ensuring that antibiotic therapies are used with good animal husbandry techniques, ‘only when necessary’, and under the direction of a veterinarian, to protect the health and welfare of birds under our care.”

 

Q: Are antibiotic residues found in the poultry meat we eat?

Not at all. If you eat poultry, you’re not eating the antibiotics the bird may have been given.

There are strict regulations governing what we call the ‘withdrawal period’ (how much time passes between antibiotic treatment and when the animal leaves the farm) to ensure that there are no residues in the meat when it comes to human consumption.

 

Q: Do large and small farms face the same challenge of antimicrobial resistance?

The size of the farm or the production system, has no link at all with the development of resistance.

 

Q: Does reducing the use of antibiotics mean less instances of resistance?

Reducing, refining and replacing the use of antibiotics helps reduce selection for resistance.  Resistant bacteria strains can occur naturally, as well as through overuse of antibiotics, so simply reducing usage doesn’t necessarily lessen resistance.

 

Q: Are antibiotics used for growth promotion?

No. The use of antibiotics for growth promotion has been banned across the EU since 2006.

 

Q: Why treat whole flocks?

Sometimes there is a need to treat whole flocks for a disease outbreak, practiced under the guidance and authority of a vet. Just like humans, animals can get ill. When a disease outbreak occurs, the treatment of whole flocks or defined populations of birds under veterinary supervision is the most effective and practical method of treatment.

 

In summary, Máire says: “Our success in reducing antibiotic use is down to the commitment of the sector and its people to only use antibiotics when necessary to treat sick birds. An openness to accept change, encourage innovation and share best practice has taken us from strength to strength and will continue to do so.”

RUMA Sector in Focus campaign – Poultry Meat: About the BPC Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme

In the second article about the Poultry Meat sector, the British Poultry Council (BPC) shares with RUMA details about the inception and work of the BPC Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme.

The scheme has been fundamental to the reductions in antibiotic use that have been achieved by the sector over the past decade. The British poultry meat sector was the first livestock sector to voluntarily develop a strategy for the responsible use of antibiotics, finding the path for other sectors to follow suit. Since then, BPC member businesses have successfully reduced their total antibiotic use by nearly 75%. As the sector producing half the meat eaten in Britain every year, BPC’s Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme plays a crucial role in delivering good bird health and welfare, ensuring responsible use of antibiotics, safeguarding the efficacy of antibiotics, and helping produce food people can trust.

The BPC Antibiotic Stewardship is based on the successful implementation of the three R’s (Replace, Reduce and Refine), supported by the principles of animal husbandry, hygiene and stockmanship.

RUMA Poultry Campaign 2022

About the BPC Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme

The BPC’s Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme was established in 2011, bringing together expertise from producers and poultry veterinarians. The main objectives of the scheme are:

  • To maintain the integrity of all classes of antibiotics to support both human and animal health
  • To collect and monitor use of all antibiotic classes in the UK poultry meat sector
  • To work with the UK government sharing antibiotic use data with the VMD
  • To support further research into ESBLs in GB broiler flocks
  • To promote and apply best practice at all steps of production

The Scheme focuses on antibiotics considered to be of ‘most highly critical importance for human health’ by the WHO. The VMD annually collects and publishes data on antibiotic products sold that are licensed for use in food-producing animals. Until the BPC’s Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme was established, only VMD’s sales data was used to monitor antibiotic sales in livestock. In 2011, BPC and its members took proactive steps to begin collecting data measuring usage, not just sales – representative of over 90% of UK poultry meat production – to identify where the scheme should take action.

BPC Chairman, Graeme Dear, says: “BPC Antibiotic Stewardship has been highly successful in driving best practice across the industry. Our farmers and veterinarians are setting an example for others around the world to follow through sustainable use of antibiotics. They uphold the UK’s position at the forefront of international efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance by effectively managing usage and protecting the health and welfare of birds, while producing food that consumers can trust.”

When looking to the future, Mr Dear says: “Through the Scheme we continue to focus efforts on ongoing and future challenges such as continuing to examine the link between antibiotic use and resistance in the poultry production chain so we can facilitate sustainable change across the industry.

“We remain committed to working closely with our members to better understand why and when antibiotics are used, and in what quantity. This allows us to transparently communicate our actions and share best practice on sustainable use to make a meaningful contribution to the global debate on antimicrobial resistance. Through ongoing coordinated action between poultry meat farmers, processors and the scientific community, as well as policy makers at all global levels, we will continue preserving the efficacy of our antibiotics.”

RUMA Poultry Campaign 2022

 

In summary

BPC Antibiotic Stewardship ensures sustainable use of antibiotics to protect the health and welfare of birds, to safeguard the efficacy of antibiotics, and to produce food consumers’ trust.

As a result of BPC Antibiotic Stewardship, set up in 2011, the poultry meat sector became the first UK livestock sector to pioneer a data collection mechanism and share antibiotic usage data with the government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). In the last ten years, the poultry meat industry has led the way in understanding its own use of antibiotics and its impact as well as sharing best practice on the sustainable use of antibiotics with other livestock sectors. Data collected by the BPC is published every year as part of the UK-Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS) report.

RUMA and the British Poultry Council (BPC) in conversation: a decade of poultry meat antibiotic stewardship success

In the first of a series of articles about the Poultry Meat sector, RUMA has partnered with the British Poultry Council (BPC), to highlight the sector’s 10 years of antibiotic stewardship.

The British poultry meat industry was the first livestock sector to voluntarily develop a strategy for the responsible use of antibiotics. In this article we hear from experts in the sector who share details of the work that has been undertaken to date to uphold the UK’s position at the forefront of international efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance and keep antibiotics effective for future generations.
RUMA Poultry Campaign 2022
The Poultry Meat sector is under the Government approved RUMA species-specific sector targets and has demonstrated a successful approach to tackling AMR, evidenced by it achieving and then sustaining its reduction targets.

RUMA asked Máire Burnett, Technical Director at the BPC to share an overview of the sector’s AMR journey to date, which started over a decade ago. She says: “Back in 2011, BPC and our members recognised the growing need for the poultry meat sector to reduce the usage of antibiotics particularly the critically important antibiotics (antibiotics used to treat both humans and animals) in UK poultry meat production.

“We were the first UK livestock sector to pioneer a data collection mechanism for antibiotic use, covering over 90% of the poultry meat sector and the first sector to share this data with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and wider stakeholders. The results speak for themselves. Since 2012, our Stewardship Scheme – comprising of BPC members – has helped achieve a 74.2% reduction in the total use of antibiotics; a 95.5% reduction in the use of critically important antibiotics and a 97.2% reduction in the use of fluroquinolones.”

Chris Lloyd, RUMA Secretary General, says: “The British poultry meat sector has achieved great results over the past decade and, alongside all UK livestock sectors, stands committed to upholding the UK’s position at the forefront of international efforts to keep antibiotics effective for future generations.

“Thanks to the sector’s openness to change, innovation and transparency to drive excellence in bird health and welfare, UK poultry meat producers have stopped all preventative treatments and the highest priority antibiotics that are critically important for humans are used only as a ‘last resort.’ “

Coinciding with the implementation of the Stewardship Scheme is a reduction in antibiotic resistant genes. The impact on AMR has been encouragingly positive. BPC members have undertaken independent surveys in 2013 and 2019 to assess levels of ESBL, showing a reduction in antibiotic resistance genes alongside the decreased use of antibiotics. The results correlate with the VMD’s monitoring of ESBLs in retail broiler meat.

Chris continues: “The UK government set strong national reduction targets in its One Health AMR strategy. It challenged the livestock industry specifically to reduce antibiotic use by 25% between 2016 and 2020, which was surpassed, and achieved through voluntary collaboration and commitment. Poultry Meat remains below the Government approved RUMA species specific sector targets and their efforts and achievements should be applauded.”

RUMA Poultry Campaign 2022

The BPC Antibiotic Stewardship is based on the successful implementation of the three R’s (Replace, Reduce and Refine), supported by the principles of animal husbandry, hygiene and stockmanship:

  • REPLACE Review and replace antibiotics used where effective alternatives are available
  • REDUCE Reducing the number of birds receiving treatment, through systems based on risk assessment
  • REFINE Continue to refine existing strategies, using data collection

BPC Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths, said: “The British poultry meat sector is feeding the nation with safe, wholesome, and nutritious food. From two and a half thousand farms across the UK, our skilled and dedicated farmers grow nearly a billion birds every year to world class standards.

“The success of BPC Antibiotic Stewardship is underpinned by the three R’s: replace, reduce, and refine. They are implemented by our committed and professional workforce at every step of the production chain, ensuring that antibiotic therapies are used with good animal husbandry techniques ‘only when necessary’ and under the direction of a veterinarian.”

The past decade has seen some great industry collaboration and achievements in response to the AMR challenge. In more recent times, the British poultry meat industry has worked hard to mitigate the challenges brought around by COVID-19, Brexit and Avian Influenza. With a responsibility to feed the nation, and a duty of care to protect the health and wellbeing of their birds, poultry meat producers have demonstrated phenomenal resilience and continue to collaboratively drive improvements and best practice across the whole supply chain.

Richard adds: “Through ongoing coordinated action between poultry farmers, veterinarians, producers and policy makers at all levels, we will continue to preserve the efficacy of our antibiotics and contribute to turning the tide against antimicrobial resistance.”

RUMA commentary on The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway

RUMA was pleased to hear the plans for the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway from UK Environment Secretary, George Eustice, which he set out at the recent NFU Conference. The pathway is a programme of financial support for farmers in the pig, cattle, sheep and poultry sectors and will push forward and support continual improvement in farm animal health and welfare.

The pathway is a key part of the farming reforms set out in the Agricultural Transition Plan, delivering benefits for animal health and welfare, farm productivity, food security, public health, UK trade and the environment. RUMA Chair, Cat McLaughlin, who also sits on the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway Steering Group, said: “The pathway is an important initiative for UK farming and will further support the commitment of the industry to continue to drive the best health and welfare outcomes.

“The pathway starts with an annual vet visit subsidised by the government, which will give farmers and vets dedicated time to review, refine and where necessary strengthen animal health and welfare plans, which will also drive improved profitability.

“The vet visits which are expected to launch later this year, will cover diagnostic testing, review of biosecurity and discussions around the responsible use of medicines.”

Chris Lloyd, RUMA Secretary General added: “The pathway project is a potential game-changer for the livestock sectors and represents a fresh and positive shift in government policy to help farmers with the health and welfare of their livestock.

“Providing funding to enable farmers to have time set aside with their vet to review and refine a farm’s proactive health management plans, is a really positive opportunity. The vet and farmer relationship is so important, and this initiative will have ongoing benefits and impacts.”

The initiative will also include measures such as reducing mastitis and lameness in dairy cattle, improving biosecurity to control pig diseases endemic to the UK and improving the feather cover of laying hens. To help farming sectors make these improvements, Animal Health and Welfare Grants will be launched within the next year to fund investments such as equipment and technology or larger projects like upgrading housing for dairy cattle to deliver improvements in lameness, cow comfort and calf mortality.

At the NFU conference, Environment Secretary, George Eustice said:

“The Animal Health and Welfare Pathway is for those farmers who are in pursuit of higher profitability through better health outcomes, and it starts with an annual vet visit.
“Farmers will be able to have a vet of their choice, the family vet that they trust, and the government will pay. That vet will be able to help the farmer put together a plan for improved animal health and improved profitability on their livestock holding.”

Chief Vet, Christine Middlemiss said:

“I hope to see wide-scale adoption of the Annual Health and Welfare Review as part of normal business practice, more farmers taking action to improve health and welfare, and improved outcomes when it comes to endemic diseases and conditions – which will improve animal health welfare and reduce waste, antibiotic use and financial losses.”

RUMA viewpoint: After years of falling sales, are reductions in antibiotic use now plateauing?

In response to this question, RUMA Secretary General, Chris Lloyd says: “The UK government set strong national reduction targets in its AMR strategy. It challenged the livestock industry to reduce antibiotic use by 25% between 2016 and 2020 – which we surpassed.

“UK sales of antibiotics to treat food producing animals have halved since 2014 and the UK holds the position of seventh-lowest sales of antibiotics for food producing animals in Europe, the lowest among more commercially productive European countries.

“In addition, Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotic (HP-CIA) sales for UK food producing animals have also fallen 75% since 2014, and sales of colistin are virtually nil. Less than 30% of the UK’s antibiotics are used to treat disease in food producing animals, despite over a billion farm animals being reared and managed in the UK every year, and levels of antibiotic resistance found through Government monitoring and surveillance are also stabilising and falling in response to reductions in use.”

The current targets up to 2024 further reinforce the ongoing commitment across all the sectors to achieve sustainable reductions.

But, it is inevitable that progress will slow down, explains Chris, as we reach that fine balance between ensuring animal health and welfare, and further sensible antibiotic reductions: “The biggest reductions have been seen in those sectors who as higher users of antibiotics were the first to tackle the issue and have been monitoring and working on reduction strategies the longest, such as the poultry and pig sectors.

“Going forward the challenge is to maintain the reduced levels of antibiotic use achieved whilst not negatively affecting the health and welfare of the animals we rear. There are plans in place to work with the higher users of antibiotics to help them reduce their use sustainably. But progress will be slower, and it is important to note that the targets are not about driving towards zero antibiotic use. Antibiotics are there as a tool to treat sick animals. The removal of these tools, whether through regulation or a loss of effectiveness, could reduce the ability of a vet to respond to an animal’s clinical need. This presents a threat to the animal’s welfare. Each sector will ultimately reach a sustainable level, below which further reductions could create issues of animal welfare. It will then be about ongoing maintenance.”

RUMA viewpoint: Overview of what the ruminant sectors are doing to help collate data on antibiotic use

Data collection is one of the main challenges for the ruminant sectors as RUMA Chair, Cat McLaughlin, explains: “Collation of robust data remains a priority especially in the ruminant sectors. Industry level data and figures are essential to illustrate the general direction of travel with antibiotic use, but farm level data is also vital and empowers farmers to own their own goals and targets to achieve realistic and sustainable levels of responsible use. We know the importance of data to help give a full and robust picture; this has been demonstrated already in the Pig (eMB-Pigs (ahdb.org.uk) and Poultry sectors where data has helped shape their reduction journeys.

“Evidence from the limited usage data available for the ruminant sectors, plus anecdotal insights from the veterinary profession for cattle and sheep, suggest that all ruminant sectors are comparatively low users of antibiotics. We need to understand more about where the pockets of use are focused and help these producers address their underlying disease challenges.”

In answer to the challenge of getting data for the ruminant sectors, Mark Jelley, Beef Farmer and Chair of the Cattle Antibiotic Guardian Group, says: “It’s quite simple really and comes down to the sheer size and scale of the ruminant sectors. We have the largest number of producers and so data collection, which is key to helping understand antibiotic use and developing targets, is naturally going to be a bigger challenge compared to smaller sectors. Watch Mark’s video here.

“To date, we have had fragmented data which is held in different formats, so trying to gain a coherent view of all data for the beef, dairy and sheep sectors has been difficult and somewhat challenging. That is why work has been underway to develop key initiatives to make data capture much easier and more cohesive. We now have the Medicine Hub (MH Medicine Hub for dairy, beef and sheep farmers | AHDB), a web-based recording system developed by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) which is designed to make it as easy as possible to capture data. The aim of the Medicine Hub is to provide a national picture of antibiotic use data and will enable us to compare across sectors. It should allow farmers and vets to understand what is going on across individual farms and provide a national picture too. The tool is available for farmers to use right now – I’ve used it myself and it is really straightforward. We know we are relatively low users of antibiotics but we can’t demonstrate it so the Medicine Hub will give us that all important evidence we need. That evidence will also help to reassure consumers that we are low users, and it will help highlight the UK’s high health and welfare standards.

“The concept behind the Medicine Hub has achieved widespread support and it is hoped this will become the primary data hub for collating existing and inputting new ruminant antibiotic usage data, so we have everything in one place. Avoiding duplication of inputting effort is key.
“There is also the FarmAssist Scheme (Farm Assist (farmassistnml.co.uk), which captures antibiotic use for participating milk processors, vets and producers, which is an excellent resource to describe the use of antibiotics on dairy herds in Great Britain. Initiatives like the Farm Assist Scheme, alongside the recently launched Medicine Hub, will prove invaluable in helping to put the right plans in place to achieve the reduction targets over the coming years.”

The Farm Vet Champions (Farm Vet Champions – RCVS Knowledge) initiative was also launched last year. It is a major collaborative project designed to unite and empower UK farm animal veterinary practitioners as they establish good antimicrobial stewardship in practices and on farms. The project has brought together major UK specialised veterinary and agriculture organisations to develop free learning materials for farm veterinary professionals to improve animal health and welfare standards and provide positive inspiration and leadership towards antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The project supports agricultural veterinary professionals to continue to improve animal health and welfare standards and aims to provide positive inspiration and leadership towards One Health efforts.

Finally, there is the Government Animal Health Pathway which gets underway this year. Cats says: “This will be a new and fresh way to support farmers and vets to come together and tackle the disease challenges on the farm. It will help build closer working relationships between vets and farmers, with an ability to identify the specific disease challenges on farms. The anticipated benefits of health and welfare improvements on farms include the potential reduction for the need for antibiotic treatments, as well as benefitting the government’s productivity strategy, as healthy animals are productive animals.”

In summary, Cat says: “Having data to build the picture of antibiotic use for a sector is really important at two levels; nationally, it helps to show the trend of antibiotic use in the sector, and at a farm level, once data becomes available, it offers an opportunity for producers to use their medicine data as a management discussion tool. Data helps galvanise both industry activity and farm level discussions and it is clear to see that although the ruminant sectors are playing catch up in terms of national data collation, there is no shortage of commitment and initiatives in place to drive positive change.”

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