Trade groups back call for global action against superbugs

Global action and country-specific targets to reduce antimicrobials’ use in livestock are called for by a report tackling antimicrobial resistance launched today (May 19). 

The global Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) was commissioned by the UK government and chaired by Lord O’Neill.

This international report was welcomed by the UK’s British Veterinary Association (BVA), which said it recognised the role that its sector must play in tackling AMR on a global scale. The association met with the Review team to offer insights on proactive work taking place within the UK to promote the use of responsible antimicrobials.

“Antimicrobial resistance is a global issue, which the veterinary profession is deeply concerned about as it threatens our ability to treat animals and protect human health,” said BVA’s president Sean Wensley.

“We welcome Lord O’Neill’s report, which recognises the importance of using a whole range of measures in both human and animal health to tackle AMR, and the fact that action must be taken globally.

“BVA has opposed the introduction of arbitrary, non-evidence-based target setting; such targets, to reduce antibiotic use, risk restricting vets’ ability to treat animal diseases, which could have serious public health and animal welfare implications.”

Wensley said the BVA accepted that the evidence-based targets in reducing the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture was likely to play an important role in finding a solution on a global scale.

“Therefore we are pleased that the report recognises the need for targets to be evidence-based and country-specific, acknowledging that the UK and Europe have already taken action, such as banning the use of antibiotics as growth promoters. The UK poultry meat sector has also done excellent work to achieve a 96% reduction in the use of fluoroquinolones last year, and the UK pig sector has recently introduced an online medicines book to record antimicrobial usage, which may subsequently inform future target setting.”

The report called for an expert group to create proposals in setting targets in order not to restrict vets’ abilities to treat animal disease outbreaks that could threaten public health and animal welfare.

“The reduced 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,” added Wensley.

“The current EU legislation on vets’ prescribing of antibiotics for all animals, including those farmed for food, is robust and we would like to see equivalent legislation adopted at international level.”
The importance of research and development in addressing AMR was also highlighted by the BVA. This includes investment to develop better vaccines, investment in pen-side diagnostics and investment in agriculture to support good animal health and welfare.

‘O’Neill is right’

The National Pig Association (NPA) agreed with the O’Neill report, and backed his claim that the whole industry needs to work together.

Headline recommendations from the report will be incorporated into the NPA’s recently launched Pig Industry Antibiotic Stewardship Programme.

“We support the report’s view that unnecessary use of antimicrobials in agriculture can cause a threat to human health and we agree with its key findings concerning agriculture,” said NPA’s chief executive, Dr Zoe Davies.

“Its recommendations regarding improved animal health education, the need for accurate data on antibiotic usage, and restriciting the use of last-rest antibiotics are already included in our new stewardship programme. Our goal now will be to ensure our aspirations are aligned with the O’Neill report in key areas and to make sure our stewardship programme moves forward as quickly as possible.”

The report highlighted particular concerns surrounding countries where non-targeted use of antibiotics is still allowed.

“We can’t do much ourselves about countries where antibiotics are used indiscriminately, but we can take the necessary actions to make sure our own standards are beyond reproach,” said Dr Georgina Crayford, NPA senior adviser.

“Although the British pig industry aims to be a responsible user of antibiotics, there is inevitably room for improvement, and this will be our focus as we step up collection of data so we can introduce best-practice bench-marking.”

Replacement targets

In response to the report, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance said it would be setting up a ‘task force’ to evaluate how meaningful targets can be developed to replace, reduce and refine antibiotic usage in UK agriculture.

RUMA said that it supports the O’Neill report: “We also understand the report’s ambition to develop long-term targets,” said RUMA’s secretary general, John FitzGerald.

“The industry has long recognised the beneficial role targets can play, but is acutely aware that inappropriate targets can also be counterproductive and even lead to increased risk of resistance.

“So we are delighted to announce the setting up of this task force which will harness the expertise of specialists across different sectors and work proactively with the authorities to look at identifying effective, evidence-based goals that work for our UK livestock sectors and protect animal welfare.”

FitzGerald claimed that although it is important to compare lessons from the UK with other countries, it is difficult to make direct comparisons.

“It should be remembered that the Danish government invested heavily to allow its pig farmers to build new high-health premises; and in reducing its antibiotic usage by nearly 60%, the Netherlands is now at approximately the same level of use as the UK. So we must look at how we develop the right goals for our sectors.”

In addition to the report calling for the cutback of antibiotic usage, FitzGerald said that RUMA was pleased to see recognition of the importance of surveillance. “Our UK poultry meat sector set up detailed surveillance of antibiotic use five years ago and through this has been able to replace, reduce and refine antibitoic use and pass on its learnings to other sectors.

“These include the pig sector, which just launched an online medicine book and stewardship programme to improve on pig usage data already collected through the Red Tractor scheme, which has been in place since October 2014; and the cattle sector, which announced last year it would be working with vets to collect usage data.”

Further proposals

Whereas the report was welcomed by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, the group called on the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to set a target for reducing farm antibiotic use by 50% by 2020 and 80% by 2025, including a target to cut the use of antibiotics calssified as critically important in human medicine by 80% by 2020 and 95% by 2025.

The alliance said that antibiotic reduction plans should be set out by species as the level used in different species varies. It said the UK had few pigs and more sheep than other EU country, resulting in a low average use per kg of meat produced. However, use per animal in UK pigs and poultry is at least 3.5 times higher than in Nordic countries and the Netherlands.

“The final report from the AMR team is a welcome recognition of the contribution of farm-antibiotic to the rise of antibiotic resistance in human infections,” said Emma Rose from the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics. “We fully agree that urgent global reductions are needed.

“The government must also put a stop to the routine preventative dosing of groups of healthy animals. Allowing such practices to continue in UK farming will undermine any chance of achieving the ambitious reductions targets we need to see. At present, the government says it opposes routine preventative use, but it also says it won’t take any action until forced to do so by the European Union. That kind of prevaricating isn’t acceptable when faced with the threat of a post-antibiotic era.”

The AMR report said that the intensive farming processes practiced by the industry can play a role in accelerating the spread of antibiotic resistance, whilst stating that changes to farming systems to improve animal health must be part of the solution.

“If we are to have a chance of tackling the antibiotic resistance crisis, we need to change the way we farm,” said Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association. “Global livestock antibiotic use is forecast to increase by 67% by 2030, due to the expected increasing intesification of global livestock systems. We know that organic and extensive systems use far fewer antibiotics than intensive systems. If Defra is serious about reducing farm antibiotic use, it must help farmers shift towards higher-welfare and more extensive systems.”

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