The British Poultry Council shares with RUMA some of the most frequently asked questions about antibiotics

In the third part of our focus on the poultry meat sector and its significant achievements in the reduction of and responsible use of antibiotics, we asked BPC Technical Director, Máire Burnett, to share some of the most frequently asked questions regarding antibiotic use.

Below, Máire clarifies misconceptions and dispels some of the common myths about antibiotic usage.


Q: Is zero use of antibiotics ever possible?

British poultry farmers and vets need antibiotics in their toolbox. Delivering excellence in bird health and welfare is the foundation of the responsible use of antibiotics and is about much more than reduction targets.

In the last 10 years we have stopped all preventative treatments, and the highest priority antibiotics that are critically important for humans are used only as a ‘last resort’ for chickens and turkeys.

Zero use is neither ethical nor sustainable as it goes against a farmer’s and vet’s duty to the animals in their care to address any health and welfare issues.


Q: What is the story behind BPC Antibiotic Stewardship?

The British Poultry Council (BPC) Antibiotic Stewardship scheme was established in 2011 to ensure sustainable use of antibiotics; to protect the health and welfare of our birds; to safeguard the efficacy of antibiotics; to produce food consumers’ trust. As a result, we became the first UK livestock sector to pioneer a data collection mechanism and share antibiotic usage data with the government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

Through our Stewardship, the sector is delivering excellence in bird health and welfare by monitoring and reviewing on-farm management practices and ensuring responsible use of antibiotics throughout our supply chain.

The British Poultry Council’s Antibiotic Stewardship has led the way in understanding the sector’s use of antibiotics and delivered an 80.2% reduction in the overall use of antibiotics as well as an 82.6% reduction in the use of Critically Important Antibiotics (CIAs) for human health.

We’re committed to ensuring that antibiotic therapies are used with good animal husbandry techniques, ‘only when necessary’, and under the direction of a veterinarian, to protect the health and welfare of birds under our care.”


Q: Are antibiotic residues found in the poultry meat we eat?

Not at all. If you eat poultry, you’re not eating the antibiotics the bird may have been given.

There are strict regulations governing what we call the ‘withdrawal period’ (how much time passes between antibiotic treatment and when the animal leaves the farm) to ensure that there are no residues in the meat when it comes to human consumption.


Q: Do large and small farms face the same challenge of antimicrobial resistance?

The size of the farm or the production system, has no link at all with the development of resistance.


Q: Does reducing the use of antibiotics mean less instances of resistance?

Reducing, refining and replacing the use of antibiotics helps reduce selection for resistance.  Resistant bacteria strains can occur naturally, as well as through overuse of antibiotics, so simply reducing usage doesn’t necessarily lessen resistance.


Q: Are antibiotics used for growth promotion?

No. The use of antibiotics for growth promotion has been banned across the EU since 2006.


Q: Why treat whole flocks?

Sometimes there is a need to treat whole flocks for a disease outbreak, practiced under the guidance and authority of a vet. Just like humans, animals can get ill. When a disease outbreak occurs, the treatment of whole flocks or defined populations of birds under veterinary supervision is the most effective and practical method of treatment.


In summary, Máire says: “Our success in reducing antibiotic use is down to the commitment of the sector and its people to only use antibiotics when necessary to treat sick birds. An openness to accept change, encourage innovation and share best practice has taken us from strength to strength and will continue to do so.”