Farming News - FSA pledges to cut farm antibiotics use

FSA pledges to cut farm antibiotics use

06 Sep 2016
Frontdesk / Livestock

The Food Standards Agency has pledged to cut the use of antibiotics on farms following the discovery of drug-resistant E.coli on UK supermarket chicken and pork meat.

A study by researchers from the University of Cambridge, the results of which were made public yesterday, found E.Coli bacteria resistant to a number of key antibiotics in samples of supermarket meat from the UK’s seven largest supermarket chains. Resistant bacteria were detected at much higher levels than in a similar study conducted last year. The testing was commissioned by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics. FSA has acknowledged the “significant threat” to human health from antibiotic-resistant superbugs, and pledged to cut the use of antibiotics on farms.

When the study was published on Monday, a spokesperson for FSA told Farming Online, “We are already testing meats and other produce for AMR and these results will be published soon.”

On Tuesday, Emma Rose from the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics said “FSA has pledged to work with food businesses and retailers to reduce farm antibiotic use. With antibiotic resistance predicted to kill one person every 3 seconds by 2050, the FSA must commit to ending the routine mass medication of groups of animals. Such practices are putting our health at risk - and should have no place in the supply chains of responsible UK supermarkets.”

Rose continued, “Worryingly and in contrast to the FSA response, the British Retail Consortium said yesterday that ‘Mass treatment of animals is not legally permitted.’ This is, of course, incorrect. In fact, mass medication accounts for about 88% of UK farm antibiotic use, and is likely to be par-for-the-course within supermarket supply chains. Upon learning that they are mistaken in their assertion, I expect the BRC to call for a ban on the routine mass medication of groups of animals immediately.”
No effective monitoring of resistance in UK farm animals

Commenting in the wake of the study’s release, a spokesperson for the British veterinary Association (BVA) said, “The reduced and targeted use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is just one piece of the jigsaw when tackling AMR and we need to foster increased collaboration between health sectors – with the veterinary profession committed to playing its part - to ensure positive steps are taken to preserve these essential drugs for future generations.”

Farming groups have frequently contested or played down farming’s role in the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria and BVA said on Tuesday that “There are many innovative and important developments happening in the poultry, pig and other sectors to promote good practice for antibiotic use in animals, and to explore alternative measures.”

However, the researchers who last year discovered bacteria resistant to last-resort polymyxin antibiotics, and that the ‘superbugs’ can confer their resistance to other bacteria with relative ease, pointed to animal agriculture as the jumping-off point for resistance. though some organisations (including the National Pig Association which in May pledged to begin collecting data on antibiotic use on farms with a view to minimising the burden) appear to have taken note, the Cambridge researchers behind Monday’s supermarket study warned that there is still no effective or joined-up monitoring of antibiotic resistance in farm animals in Britain, and urged against complacency in the face of so grave a threat.

In May, the government’s O’Neill Review warned the annual death toll from infections with antibiotic resistant bacteria could rise from 700,000 deaths today to 10 million by mid-century.

The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics is calling on the public to write to all major supermarkets asking them to ban the routine use of antibiotics in their meat supply chains, and support farmers to make changes to their systems. Following the study, Waitrose, which had already made commitments on antibiotics use in 2015, updated their antibiotics policy to state that they are working towards significant year on year reductions in usage of all antibiotics, and have pledged to end the use of all ‘critically important’ antibiotics as soon as possible.