RUMA response to misleading reporting on the use of certain antibiotics in the Pig Sector

Cat McLaughlin, Chair of The Responsible use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) says:

“We are hugely disappointed to see that data regarding the use of certain antibiotics in the pig sector has been completely misrepresented in a number of recent sector and consumer news articles. We feel it is important to highlight the inaccuracies to ensure the full facts are properly understood and any misunderstandings rectified.

“RUMA believes that recent reporting with headlines that indicate the UK pig industry has doubled its use of critically important antibiotics vital for humans are misleading, as they focus on the WHO (World Health Organisation) list of antibiotics which are not the guidelines followed by the UK. RUMA aligns to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) guidance on the use of antibiotics, and these are also the same guidelines that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) focuses on (the VMD is an executive agency of The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra)). These guidelines are based on the scientific review of the Antimicrobial EMA’s Advice Ad Hoc Expert Group (AMEG) which categorises antibiotics based on the potential consequences to public health of increased antimicrobial resistance when used in animals. These guidelines are designed to protect public health and are reviewed on a regular basis as new science emerges.

“The Aminoglycosides referred to in the articles are not referenced as critically important for human health by the EMA. The small volume of Aminoglycosides used in pigs are used with great care and under strict veterinary protocol and aligned to the EMA guidelines. We would also point out that whilst in mg/kg the volume of Aminoglycosides use has doubled, it is still a relatively low volume of the overall total of antibiotics used in the UK pig sector (approximately 6%).

“2020 Antibiotic usage figures for the pig sector, released by the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) show a reduction in antibiotic use of 62% between 2015 and 2020 demonstrating the sustained efforts from producers, vets and wider industry to ensure the responsible reduction in the use of antibiotics.

“As well as the above, there are also other important elements of context missing from the reporting as follows:

  • Vets will always prescribe the most appropriate medicines. In some circumstances the most appropriate medicines to combat a disease, to prevent suffering and cure a condition, will be an antibiotic – which is the same approach as is taken in human health
  • HP-CIAs, as defined by the EMA and recognised by the VMD, account for less than 0.05% of all antibiotic use across the pig sector

“UK agriculture is committed to the responsible use of antibiotics. Ensuring animal welfare is a priority alongside achieving appropriate and sustainable reductions is the key. Just as humans and companion animals (pets) sometimes need treatment if they fall ill, depending on the condition, this might need to be an antibiotic. Equally, across UK agriculture any keeper of animals has a responsibility and duty of care to seek treatment for livestock if they are sick; this means on occasion treating an animal or in a farming scenario, sometimes a group of animals reared together, with an antibiotic to treat and prevent the spread of a disease.

“To put the UK’s use of antibiotics into context, UK sales of antibiotics to treat food producing animals have halved since 2014 and now account for less than 30% of the antibiotics used in the UK.

“It is fair to say that antibiotic stewardship is now part of everyday language across UK agriculture, and we are leading the way in achieving significant reductions as can be seen in the results to date. Therefore, the way recent articles have misrepresented the facts to the sector and the public in suggesting pig producers are ‘doubling their use of antibiotics vital for humans’ is wrong and damaging.”