FSA acknowledges significant threat of antimicrobial-resistant E.coli

Following on from a report revealing concerning levels of antibiotic-resistant E.coli found in UK supermarket poultry and pork, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said it recognised the "significant threat" it poses to human health.

The agency said that moving forward, it will aim to reduce the use of antimicrobials in animals for food production.

“It’s fantastic the FSA has pledged to work with food businesses and retailers to reduce farm antibiotic use,” said Emma Rose from the Alliance. “With antibiotic resistance predicted to kill one person every three 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.

“Worryingly, and in contrast to the FSA response, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said yesterday that “Mass treatment of animals is not legally permitted.” However, Rose said this statement was incorrect. “In fact, mass-medication accounts for about 88% of UK farm antibiotic use [Veterinary Medicines Directorate], and is likely to be par-for-the-course within supermarket 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.”

Responding to this, the BRC said: "As the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics correctly points out, under current EU legislation this is permitted. However, as members of the Respsonsible Use of Medicines Alliance (RUMA), retailers do not  support routine preventative use of antibiotics where such disease challenges can be prevented by better husbandry and farm management. RUMA does not support metaphylacis.

"The BRC and its members are involved in a RUMA task force recently established to discuss and determine meaningful targets that can be established to replace, reduce and refine antibiotic use in UK agriculture."

The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics is now calling on people to write to all the major supermarkets to ask them to stop the routine use of antibiotics in their meat supply chains and to support farmers in making changes to their systems.

“For too long we have permitted the systematic overuse of antibiotics in our livestock systems,” said Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston. “The recent findings of E.coli resistant to multiple key antibiotics on supermarket meat is yet another sign of the consequences of this complacency.”

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) said that it was working with companion animal owners, livestock farmers and other species stakeholders to promote the responsible use of antibiotics. “Antimicrobials are crucial for the maintenance of animal health and welfare, and 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,” said a statement from the association. “It is essential that we learn from and share this best-practice across the UK and beyond.

“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.”

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