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.”