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Let’s maintain the momentum on our antibiotic achievements

20 Nov 2020 | James Russell


For World Antibiotic Awareness Week, BVA President James Russell reveals the importance of continual work to maintain and protect our antibiotics.

Let’s maintain the momentum on our antibiotic achievements  Image

It’s World Antimicrobial Awareness Week. It is impossible to rank the importance of the awareness days through the year, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that this one is more important for the future of our planet than Sesame Street Day, which quite honestly has been celebrated on 10 November annually since 2009.

Antimicrobial resistance is arguably one of the single greatest challenges facing life on earth right now. The good news is that UK vets, farmers and human health care professionals are working together under the umbrella of One Health to maintain and protect our important antibiotics.

So it is that we see that for the third year running, antibiotic usage in food producing animals in the UK is held down at a level less than half of what it was in just 2014. The UK is the fifth lowest antibiotic user in agriculture in Europe, and the lowest user among countries with a significant agricultural sector. Today we see that the antibiotics critical for human health (Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics, or HP-CIAs) make up less than half of one percent of total usage. Every sector of our agriculture industry has played its part, and I’m particularly proud of the vital role that the veterinary profession, with leadership from each of the species-specific BVA specialist divisions, has played in achieving these milestones.

We are not complacent about our position now. Whilst there is no race to zero here – antibiotics will always play an important role in protecting animal health and welfare – we can go further. By continuing to work with food producers, vets can help to reduce the prevalence of endemic diseases on farms, many of which see antibiotics used to control secondary infections. This is exactly what the new targets set by the RUMA Targets Task Force 2 aim to achieve by 2024, with their focus on improving vaccine uptake, promote excellent husbandry practices and reduce endemic diseases. 

It’s important that we also continue to maintain and improve our health and welfare standards. Already we recognise these standards as being amongst the best in the world. We sit at a crossroads where, as a nation, we need to decide how much we value that. With the recent passage of the Agriculture Act, the government has made a commitment that it will invest in animal health and welfare as public goods. However, if we truly value access to high quality, high welfare food produced in the UK with everything that goes alongside that in terms of antimicrobial, animal welfare and environmental stewardship, then we need to stand together in supporting the call from BVA that no animal, or product of animal origin, should be available for purchase in the UK which has been produced to standards which would not be legal or acceptable in the UK. Failing in this goal will undercut any investment in high welfare farming as a public good.

A running theme across everything we hope to do this year is helping vets and farmers work together to improve outcomes on farm. We believe collaboration is key to improving the UK’s already high reputation for producing food to a high standard, whilst using medicines responsibly. The evidence contained within the latest VARRS report goes a long way to cementing that reputation.  Going forward, a key objective must be to capture better animal health, welfare and medicine use data to underpin the marketability of our produce.

We have the choice about this as UK consumers, and as vets we have an influence over the behaviour of producers we work with now and in the future. This antimicrobial awareness week, we are asking everyone to #ChooseAssured and to eat sustainably. Take a look at BVA’s farm assurance schemes infographic, which includes within its priorities the responsible use of antimicrobials in the standards of different UK farm assurance schemes. Hopefully then, the human race will be able to continue to celebrate International ‘Say Hello Day’ (21 November) for many, many more years.


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