RUMA task force announces new antibiotic usage targets

Immediately following the news that sales of antibiotics to treat and prevent disease in UK farm livestock have achieved a record low (27% reduction over the past two years) targets for further reducing, refining or replacing antibiotic use across the key livestock sectors have been announced at a London conference today.
calendar icon 27 October 2017
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Sector-specific targets have been developed over the past year by a ‘Targets Task Force’, facilitated by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance, to ensure that agriculture can also contribute to reduction in antibiotic use in industry.

The Targets Task Force comprises a leading veterinary surgeon and farmer from each of the beef, dairy, egg, fish, gamebird, pig, poultry meat and sheep sectors, who have been consulting with key organisations in their respective industries. The group also includes observers from regulators, Food Standards Agency and Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

The headline targets for the eight sectors include a reduction in use of antibiotics in pigs by over 60% between 2015 and 2020, with minimal use of highest priority Critically Important Antibiotics (CIAs). Data released earlier in the day indicate a good start has been made, with usage in the pig sector falling by around 35% between 2015 and 2016.

Targets Task Force member and president of the Pig Veterinary Society Mark White said he was pleased such a significant milestone had been reached in the first year of concerted efforts to reduce antibiotic use:

It’s encouraging to see the response in the sector to the challenge laid down, which bodes well for achieving our ambitious 2020 goal

It is evident that the sector – steered mainly by the members of the Pig Veterinary Society, AHDB Pork and the National Pig Association – has the will and the capability to fully engage with the issue.

The next steps, he said, were to focus on eliminating routine preventative treatment where it is still happening, mainly due to lack of resource or expertise:

We can also work to improve water delivery systems so that more targeted treatment in the water can be used instead of in-feed medication.

Some of the strategies to achieve these goals in dairy farming include reducing the use of antibiotic dry cow therapy and injectable products, and cutting back on group treatments such as antibiotic footbaths for lameness (which remain largely unproven); instead opting for topical and targeted treatments.

RUMA Mark White quoteThree sectors – poultry meat, laying hen and fish – are either already low users of medicines or have made significant reductions over the past five years. These sectors will be focusing on maintaining use at the minimal level needed to ensure good health and welfare among their livestock, while tackling emerging challenges should they arise.

In doing this, the poultry meat sector has also ceased all preventative treatment and use of the highest priority CIAs. This sector will use clinical governance to ensure CIA antibiotics are only prescribed when absolutely needed and with sign off from veterinary specialists and management.

The laying hen and fish sectors have similarly committed to continuing low use, with the laying hen sector eliminating all use of highest priority CIAs in the past two years. The development of a vaccine in the salmon sector several years ago successfully controlled one of its most challenging bacterial diseases, so the focus has turned to the health of the ‘cleaner fish’ used to provide natural control of sea lice.

For the beef sector, reduction in use centres around calves and youngstock, particularly in the areas of respiratory disease. There is also an emphasis on calves from dairy herds, where mixing animals from different sources can create a peak in disease pressure similar to children going to school for the first time.

In sheep, the focus areas are to reduce routine preventative antibiotic usage against abortion (miscarriage), lameness and neonatal lamb diseases such as watery mouth and joint ill.

With initiatives proving that routine preventative use is largely avoidable through a combination of vaccination, good hygiene, quality nutrition and careful shepherding, Dr Fiona Lovatt of the Targets Task Force is optimistic about the opportunities to reduce overall use:

In the sheep sector, we’re not high users of antibiotics. But we want to ensure that any use is totally targeted so we are challenging all inappropriate or routine preventative use.

Convincing farmers to change practices is tricky, and none of us want to see an increase in levels of disease, but those who have had the courage to work with their vets to change what they do are now seeing what is possible. The answer is to take a holistic approach and work closely with a keen vet.

Gwyn Jones, chair of both RUMA and the Targets Task Force, said he has been overwhelmed by the positivity of the group and its willingness to be ambitious:

The members have worked very hard and have shown incredible leadership and persistence. They have also provided unprecedented support and inspiration to each other.

I am delighted they have agreed that the group should continue to meet twice-yearly to review progress and discuss issues.

The Targets Task Force was first proposed by RUMA after the O’Neill Review on Antimicrobial Resistance was published in May 2016. The group was progressed after Government confirmed an objective to have sector-specific targets in place by the end of 2017.

Highest priority Critically Important Antibiotics (CIAs) are as defined by the European Medicines Agency

The full report with all targets for each sector can be downloaded from the RUMA website

As reported by RUMA

For more information on antibiotic-resistance and responsible use of antibiotics, please visit The Pig Site Knowledge Centre by clicking HERE

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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