Defra backs O’Neill review on anti-microbial resistance

The government has backed the O’Neill review on anti-microbial resistance (AMR).

In its response to Lord Jim O’Neill’s AMR, which was published in May, Defra said the UK was already leading on a range of measures aimed at preventing AMR across the globe.

These included almost halving the British meat poultry industry’s use of antibiotics between 2012 and 2015 through improvements in training, stewardship, and disease control.

Key commitments

Key commitments in the government’s response to the O’Neill review include:

• A global approach to addressing AMR, working with the EU
• Investing in research to stimulate the development of new antimicrobial drugs
• Reducing inappropriate human antibiotic prescribing by 50%, with the aim of being a world leader in reducing prescribing by 2020
• A reduction in antibiotic use in livestock and fish farmed for food to a multispecies average of 50mg/kg by 2018
• A significant increase in regulatory oversight of veterinary antibiotics, enabling restrictions, or even bans, in animals on use of antibiotics of highest priority and critical importance to people.

'Critical global challenge'

Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens said: “Antimicrobial resistance is a critical global challenge and our commitment to reduce antibiotic use in livestock, in line with Lord O’Neill’s recommendations, is an important part of the government’s One Health strategy to tackle it.

“We are already making good progress in monitoring and reducing the use of antibiotics across the farming industry. Today’s commitments mean we will remain at the forefront of the global effort to tackle this international challenge.”

Defra said it would work with individual sectors to ensure appropriate sector specific reduction targets were agreed by 2017.

New rules

The government also announced its intention to agree new rules to restrict the use of antibiotics considered to be of the ‘highest critical importance to human medicine’. There will be a ‘significant increase in regulatory oversight of veterinary antibiotics’.

The UK pig industry was already tackling anti-microbial resistance (AMR), the National Pig Association (NPA) said in a statement following the government response.

It confirmed Defra’s commitment to a reduction in antibiotic use in livestock and fish farmed for food to an average across the sectors of 50mg/kg by 2018. This compares with the most recent figure, from 2014, of 62mg/kg.

The pig industry was up for the challenge, the NPA said. Earlier this year, it launched its Antibiotic Stewardship Programme, which provides a framework for action and progress is already being made under it.

Six strands of activity

The NPA’s Antibiotic Stewardship programme has six strands of activity:

• Capture and collate antibiotic use data recorded on pig farms
• Benchmark each farm’s antibiotic use against other farms of a similar type
• Extend education in effective disease control strategies
• Reduce antibiotic use, consistent with responsible human and food-animal medicine
• Promote veterinary prescribing principles to strictly limit the use of antibiotics of critical importance to human health
• Appoint Stewardship Commissars who will continually review industry’s use of antimicrobials and champion initiatives.

New figures this week showed records covering more than five million pigs had now been entered onto eMB-Pigs, the industry database introduced to record antibiotic usage.

The NPA’s producer group recently recommended that eMB-Pigs should be made compulsory under the Red Tractor Pork scheme.


Dr Georgina Crayford, who leads on AMR for the NPA, said the industry was fully aware of its responsibilities on the issue but needed support from government to achieve their mutual aims.

“The pig industry is completely committed to meeting the recommendations laid out in the O’Neill report,” said Crayford. “Good progress is being made in recording antibiotic usage and we continue to encourage farmers to use eMB-Pigs so we can quantify national usage levels and ensure appropriate reduction targets are set.

“We will continue to work with government and the industry alliance brought together by RUMA (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture) to set responsible and proportionate usage targets for the pig sector. However, any reduction in antibiotic use must balance the need to address AMR with the equally important need to protect the health and welfare of our livestock.

“It is also important to stress that AMR will only be addressed through a holistic One Health approach covering human and animal medicine."

Wider issues

Crayford welcomed the government’s commitment to work with the industry to address wider animal health issues, including through the Rural Development Scheme.

She added: “We can’t do this on our own. Producers need support from government, particularly for new pig buildings, which are more hygienic and allow better biosecurity, to improve herd health and reduce the need for antibiotics.

“This is something we will be pushing for now and as the government develops its post-Brexit UK agricultural support policy as a means of helping both producers and the wider public.”

The O’Neill Review, published in May, called for co-ordinated measures on a global scale to ensure the responsible use of antibiotics in human and animal medicine.

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