RUMA response to new EU antibiotics policy

From 28 January 2022, a ban on the administration of antibiotics to groups of healthy animals came into force across the EU. This has sparked much interest and discussion about the impacts and opportunities ahead for UK legislation. But, says RUMA, it is important to recognise how well-advanced UK agriculture is with regards reductions in antibiotic use.

Chris Lloyd, RUMA Secretary General says: “There have already been hugely positive voluntary achievements across UK agriculture in reducing the use of antibiotics which have helped to halve the use to treat UK farm animals and has seen the use of Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics in animals reduce by 79% since 2014.

“There are voluntary antibiotic reduction targets in place for every UK livestock sector, as set by the RUMA Targets Task Force, which demonstrate the industry’s ongoing support to the responsible use of antibiotics and has put the UK ahead of most EU countries. Rules on medicines use are enshrined in, legislation, Farm Assurance schemes, supply chain agreements, and there are also a number of significant industry initiatives in place such as the AHDB led electronic medicine book for pigs (eMB-Pigs) and more recently the Medicine Hub for ruminants. Vets are a key component of engagement with farmers, and another recently launched initiative is Farm Vet Champions (FVC), which brings together major UK specialised veterinary and agriculture organisations to develop free learning materials for farm veterinary professionals to improve animal health and welfare standards and provide positive inspiration and leadership towards antimicrobial resistance (AMR). All this puts AMR and medicine use front and centre in the way we produce quality livestock products in the UK.

“We would expect that future developments to UK legislation will only seek to further maintain UK agriculture’s commitment to the efforts and achievements already well underway. However, when we consider future UK legislation, we must bear in mind what position that puts us in with regards to imports and exports. On the one hand there is the desire from UK farmers for a level playing field for imported products, but we need to ensure we maintain vital access to existing and new export markets.”

Chris adds: “The UK is seen as a leader when it comes to the responsible use of antibiotics, so RUMA feels strongly that there is no danger of the UK falling behind. In fact, the reductions already achieved mean that, rather than lagging behind the EU, the UK is, in fact, one of the lowest users of antibiotics. The 52% reduction in antibiotic use since 2014 which has been achieved through voluntary multi-sector collaboration, is testament to this.

“RUMA does not support the routine use of preventative antibiotic treatments, a practice that is not common on British, but feels that compulsory controls are a ‘blunt tool’ which wouldn’t take into account the complexities across each of the sectors. There is also a real danger that blanket bans will be to the detriment of animal health and welfare. Antibiotics will always have a place in both human and animal medicine and it is vital to have medicines in our cabinet to tackle disease and protect animal and human health and welfare. But this is not a drive to zero use. RUMA believes it is important for vets to have medicines available to tackle disease and ensure animal health and welfare, following the principles of responsible use: as little as possible, but as much as is necessary, at the right time and in the right situations.”

RUMA has been asked to comment directly on the question around whether a UK-wide ban on the administration of antibiotics to groups of animals for disease prevention should be made compulsory in the UK. In response to this question, RUMA Chair, Cat McLaughlin said: “Whilst this is a legitimate area for discussion, the reality of treating groups of animals is often a complex scenario when considering the best outcome for the welfare of the animals involved. However, given the UK’s significant achievements already, RUMA would welcome dialogue with the industry and the VMD in terms of what any future UK legislation says regarding preventative treatments in groups of animals.

In summary, Cat says: “As we sit here today, we must reflect and take into account that when it comes to AMR, UK agriculture has been championing reductions for the past ten years through a huge multi-sector voluntary effort which has been done largely without the need for blanket bans. So, while legislation does play a key role, it is important to recognise the incredible commitment already – all of which has focused the minds of the industry on the responsible use of antibiotics for over a decade.

“The EU, by its very infrastructure comprising multiple countries and historic approaches to medicine use, has a complicated challenge when considering a response to AMR, and this will have influenced the approach it has taken in its legislation. Post ‘Brexit,’ we have the opportunity to frame future UK legislation which marries our successful voluntary approach with an appropriate legislative framework that is the best fit for UK agriculture.”