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.”