The two European agencies laid out their joint opinion, saying that a combination of interventions tailored to each local situation was needed. These include recording both use and the development of resistance, establishing a national target for antimicrobial use reduction and reducing inherent disease risk on each farm.
The opinion recommends that options should be reviewed to phase out most preventive use of antimicrobials but accepts there could be exceptional circumstances that require such use.
Furthermore, it says access to critically important antimicrobials should be restricted and only used in animals as a last resort.
RUMA chair Gwyn Jones said the detail in the opinion was yet to be fully digested but it was positive that the two agencies acknowledged different situations required different approaches; the main recommendations also suggested UK farming was on the right track.
Mr Jones said: “The acknowledgement that there is no perfect system and each local situation needs its own multifaceted approach to reducing use of antimicrobials is refreshing. There has been a tendency for critics to promote alternative farming systems or demand blanket implementation of rules in other countries, when what we actually need is to reduce use in a sustainable way that safeguards animal welfare.”
Reviewing other aspects of the report, Mr Jones said RUMA’s guidelines on preventive treatment already emphasise it should only be a stop-gap used in high risk scenarios, and not routinely.
“While some sectors have made longer term changes – we saw poultry meat companies stop prophylactic (preventive) use of all antibiotics in 2016 through working with the British Poultry Council – RUMA recognises that preventive treatment will sometimes be needed on a temporary basis while vet and farmer make improvements to biosecurity and animal husbandry,” he said.
“Furthermore, use of critically important antibiotics, as defined by the EMA, has been voluntarily restricted by the poultry, pig and now cattle sectors. An example is colistin, a drug of last resort for treatment of resistant E. Coli infections, which now has minimal use in the UK at a level some 10 times lower than the European limit.”
Mr Jones said the UK was already well on the way to achieving the target set by Government to reduce antibiotic use by almost 20 per cent by 2018; the 10 per cent reduction in the latest available sales figures for food-producing animals underlined this. Sector-specific goals were also being developed through RUMA’s specially-set up Targets Task Force, due to define meaningful objectives for the main livestock sectors by the end of 2017.
He said: “Collection of usage data has been taking place for over five years in the poultry meat sector and is increasing rapidly in the pig sector; collecting records in the sheep and cattle sectors is more challenging due to the large number of smaller producers and current stand-alone data recording, but several solutions are actively being investigated in a multi-stakeholder group that includes the regulator.
“As well as this, huge steps are being taken in terms of biosecurity, disease control and disease prevention. This reflects RUMA’s responsible use guidelines and meets the report’s objective that farming practices which prevent the introduction and spread of disease into farms should be developed.
“In the UK’s case, this is mostly through innovations which allow us to protect the diversity we need in our farm production systems to meet our wide range of consumer preferences.”