Response to FSA surveillance report on antimicrobial-resistant E. coli in meat

RUMA welcomes the latest antibiotic resistance surveillance report from the Food Standards Agency (FSA), published today. The positive news is that levels of antimicrobial resistant E. coli in UK retail meat remain low. This is consistent with the findings of other recent UK surveillance which has found that the number and levels of antibiotic-resistant isolates is not increasing, or is even reducing in some areas, despite the complexity of the relationship between antibiotic use and the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The anomaly of the mcr-1 gene found in the imported (non-UK) beef sample as reported by the FSA appears to be a one-off incident. However, while isolation of a colistin-resistant organism does not mean that colistin has been used in that animal, this finding has given all sectors an opportunity to review current tight measures regarding use of Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics (HP-CIAs).

All veterinary organisations covering the main farm animal species in the UK have restricted use of colistin to absolute last resort or eliminated its use completely over the past three years. Regarding the specific situation in cattle, the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) issued guidance in January 2017 that colistin should only be used as last resort when no other options remain to safeguard animal welfare, and once sensitivity testing has been carried out.

Further safeguards are in place through Red Tractor, which covers 85% of UK beef production, stating that HP-CIAs for the beef, lamb and dairy sectors must only used as a last resort under veterinary direction alongside sensitivity and/or diagnostic testing.

For context, sales of colistin in UK farm animals have fallen 99% since 2013, and just 7kg in total was used in 2017. This is one thousandth of the EU recommended maximum.