RUMA response to findings from Antibiotic Resistance Testing of Supermarket Meat

RUMA chairman Gwyn Jones says the farming industry fully recognises concerns about growing resistance to antibiotics, but resistance in humans remains largely attributed to human medical use with a recent study confirming farm animal use could be responsible for as few as one in every 370 clinical cases.

He says: “Good kitchen hygiene, washing hands after handling raw meat and thorough cooking of meat will almost completely prevent the transmission of antimicrobial resistance from meat to man.

“Despite this, the farming industry must also play its part to control spread of resistance. This is why RUMA announced in May it is setting up an industry task force to look at how meaningful targets can be developed to replace, reduce and refine antibiotic use in UK agriculture. That group is now being formed and a first meeting will be held shortly.”

Addressing some of the specific points raised, Mr Jones says UK farming is already focused on reducing use of antibiotics deemed critically important for human medicine (CIAs).

“Sales into farming of fluoroquinolones and 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins,  which are CIAs, are already very low in the UK, representing just 0.9% of the total,” he explains.

“In 2012 the poultry meat industry introduced a voluntary ban on the use of 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins, and a commitment to reduce the use of fluoroquinolones which has since led to an overall reduction. The 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins authorised for use in pigs cannot be given in-feed or in-water and are only ever administered to individual animals.

“Furthermore, despite colistin making up less than 0.2% of UK antibiotic use in UK livestock, RUMA announced a voluntary restriction in December 2015 that it should only be used as the last effective antibiotic available for treating the sick animal,” adds Mr Jones.

“So while it’s very positive that no colistin and fluoroquinolone resistance was found in these samples, the discovery of bacteria resistant to modern cephalosporins when so few are being used only serves to underline the complexity of this issue, and the need to tread carefully – as interventions are not without consequence.”

He explains that bacterial infections and associated inflammation undoubtedly cause pain and discomfort to animals. The treatment of such infections is a requirement of both national and EU animal welfare legislation and all vets are under oath to protect the health and welfare of the animals in their care.

“Therefore, the benefits of any restrictions for public health need to be clear, and 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.

The European Medicines Agency Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use (CVMP): “It is recognized that the biggest driver of AMR in people is the use of antimicrobials in humans or human health.”
UK Department of Health 5 Year Strategy on Antimicrobial Resistance (2013) “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.”
Burch, D. 2015 – Use of antibiotics in animals and people. November 28, 2015, Veterinary Record, 549-550 doi:10.1136/vr.h6380
UK Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance