RUMA response to coverage of a recently released study on Colistin

In response to media coverage of a study by the University of Oxford published in the journal eLife (25 April 2023) regarding resistance to antimicrobial peptides, including Colistin, RUMA is keen to highlight that the way the study has been reported could be misleading to the public, as the UK position has not been captured.

In the case of Colistin, the medicine highlighted in the study, RUMA, alongside industry bodies right across the UK livestock sectors, recognised its importance to human medicine and collectively introduced a voluntary restriction on its use back in 2015 which has resulted in negligible use since 2017, and no use at all reported in 2021. There are also restrictions under farm assurance schemes; for example, Red Tractor requires that HP-CIAs are only used as a last resort and supported by a veterinary statement outlining justification for use, including sensitivity testing and/or diagnostics. Colistin use in the UK had always been at a low level before the voluntary restrictions were introduced.

As this is a single study, drawing any robust conclusions are also difficult.

The UK situation is not the same as some other countries; in the UK there has been a significant voluntary response and investment made in tackling AMR  for over a decade.

Whilst it is important to understand the global position on AMR, this may not always be reflective of the positive work already well underway in the UK.

The achievements of UK livestock sectors in tackling AMR have been robustly monitored and reported on over the last decade and evidences significant reductions in antibiotic use. The key headlines of which are as follows:

  • – The Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s (VMD) Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS 2021) report which was released in November 2022, shows that UK antibiotic sales for food-producing animals have reduced by 55% since 2014, to 28.3 mg/kg. This represents the lowest sales to date
  • – The use of HP-CIA’s, those antibiotics which are considered most important for human health, have reduced by 83% since 2014 and now represent just 0.4% of the antibiotics used to treat sick food producing animals
  • – In addition, the latest RUMA Targets Task Force (TTF) Report update, also released in November 2022, features detailed sector insights on the work and achievements of UK livestock sectors, with many reporting positive progress against their antibiotic reduction targets
  • – The published data e.g. in VARSS, highlights the responsiveness of the UK agriculture sectors to antimicrobial stewardship, ceasing use of Colistin on a voluntarily basis, as well as the commitment of UK agriculture, Government and the veterinary profession in taking a One Health approach. This demonstrates huge collaborative efforts, and these successes across the livestock industry have put the UK ahead of most food-producing EU countries

RUMA Secretary General, Chris Lloyd, says: “In 2016 RUMA established the Targets Task Force which brought together representatives from every livestock sector across the food chain in the UK to set realistic reduction targets. This has been a significant commitment from all the livestock sectors to assess their use of medicines, and ensure they are used responsibly. Recognising the challenge faced globally by AMR, livestock farmers have to balance their responsibility for the health of the animals under their care with the need to reduce the use of important medicines needed for the future treatment of sick humans and animals. The concept of responsible use of medicines and the importance of using the right medicine at the right time and in the right way, is now engrained in everyday language on UK farms.”

The VARSS report also gives detailed information of surveillance of AMR, carried out by government agencies, which shows that levels of AMR which occur in livestock are on a clear downward trend in tandem with the reduction in use of antibiotics. However, this is not about achieving zero use; antibiotics are important ‘tools’ that the veterinary sector needs at its disposal to protect animal health and welfare against disease challenges.

Only around 30%  of all the antibiotics used in the UK are now used on farmed livestock which signifies a massive switch over the last ten years.

The agriculture industry has, and continues, to take ownership of defining realistic antibiotic reduction targets and working in collaboration with stakeholders and government to drive positive change – as evidenced in the RUMA TTF and VARSS reports. The efforts and achievements to date have also been independently praised in a recently released FAO Report, produced jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).