RUMA response to investigation into antibiotic use in imported Polish chicken

A story published on 20 June 2023 about Polish chicken imported into and sold in the UK, and produced in systems which use medicines classified as “critically important” to human health, is disappointing and does not represent the standards adopted by livestock reared here in the UK. 

There are some major points of difference between standards in UK livestock production versus those in other countries, such as Poland.

For example, overall use of antibiotics for livestock farming in Poland is around six times higher than in the UK (an overall use in livestock production of 175mg/kg in Poland compared with 28mg/kg in the UK in 2021 – EU ESVAC figures)

The story also has a specific focus on the use of HP-CIAs in the Polish chicken referenced, which are those antibiotics defined as critically important for treatment of human disease. Use of HP-CIAs in the UK is minimal in comparison to Poland. In the case of Colistin, use in Poland has generally been around eight times higher than in the UK. 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 usage 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. Even prior to the voluntary reductions, Colistin use in the UK had always been at a low level.

UK livestock production is subject to some of the highest and rigorous health and welfare standards in the world. With regard to antibiotic use, UK livestock sectors have made huge progress in tackling AMR and reducing use over the last decade, taking ownership and defining reduction targets – a journey that has been robustly monitored and reported on and which evidences significant reductions. UK livestock sectors have voluntarily achieved a 55% reduction in antibiotic use between 2014 and 2021. The use of HP-CIAs in UK food producing animals has fallen by 83% since 2014. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s (VMD) Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS 2021) report which was released in November 2022, gives detailed information of surveillance of AMR, and shows that levels of AMR which occur in livestock are on a clear downward trend in tandem with the reduction in use of antibiotics.

It is important that consumers are aware of the high standards followed in the UK; backing UK farmers and producers and recognising their low antibiotic use and antibiotic stewardship programmes, alongside their commitment to high health and welfare, should give confidence and reassurance to the UK public.

The British poultry meat industry is just one example of the commitment to antibiotic stewardship shown right across UK food producing industries. It was the first livestock sector to voluntarily develop a strategy for the responsible use of antibiotics. Its antibiotic stewardship scheme – comprising British Poultry Council (BPC) members – has helped achieve a 78.9% reduction in the total use of antibiotics since 2012, an 87.1% reduction in the use of Fluoroquinolones in the last eleven years, and a 97.7% reduction in use of Critically Important Antibiotics.

Cat McLaughlin, RUMA Chair, 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.”

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