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Poultry vets lead the way in combating antimicrobial resistance

AMR In Focus: The BVPA, our specialist poultry division, has been very busy in the area of antimicrobial use and resistance – giving expert opinions and comment, and collaborating on working groups as well as drawing up and revising guidelines.

I’m sure you are all well aware of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and its much-publicised status as a global threat to human health and well-being. You may think that is a somewhat dramatic interpretation of events, but consider for a moment the scenario depicted in the O’Neill Report. This report was published last year and commissioned by David Cameron, then Prime Minister, following the 2014 G7 meeting. AMR is currently estimated to result in some 700,000 deaths worldwide and is projected to reach 10 million by 2050 unless action is taken.

AMR is a natural process but we can act to slow its increase. International cooperation is essential. Otherwise, as Cameron said, “the world would be cast back into the dark ages of medicine.” There is clearly a lack of investment in the development of new AM molecules. But even if that investment were made it is unlikely to be seen in the field of veterinary medicine, so we must act to preserve our current armoury.

A recent article in Science sets out options for reduction in antibiotic use for the sake of animal welfare and to limit the incidence of AMR in zoonotic pathogens. Measures include regulation, reducing meat consumption and fees on end users.

The European Medicines Agency holds up Denmark as a shining example of responsible AM use, and uses their consumption of 50 mg/kg PCU as a target for the rest of the EU.

The UK livestock industry has already exceeded that figure, with 2016 usage confirmed at 45 mg/kg PCU, and the broiler sector leading the way at 17 mg/kg PCU.

Progress in the poultry meat sector

The British Poultry Council (BPC) Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme has brought about a 71% reduction in total use of antibiotics for broiler poultry between 2012 and 2016, whilst poultry meat production has increased by 11%. The cornerstones of the programme are, wherever possible, to replace antibiotics with alternative practices, reduce the number of bird treatments, and refine strategies. The programme has been refined to stop the prophylactic use of antibiotics, ending use of colistin, and promoting new standards for the Red Tractor Poultry Assurance Scheme.

In addition, use of 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins has been banned, and great care in the use of macrolides and fluoroquinolones is urged. The BPC have been very active in promoting the 5 Freedoms of Husbandry – freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress. Integral to this approach are qualities of good stockmanship. These principles do of course apply to all farmed livestock.

Egg and gamebird industries

Although a smaller industry in numbers of birds, 90% of egg laying birds are farmed by members of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) who are required to observe the Lion Code of Practice for laying hens. The Lion Code, launched in 1997, has a particular focus on Salmonella control throughout the egg production chain. This Code includes detailed requirements for all aspects of layer breeding and commercial layer operation, and requires all producers to work closely with their veterinarians to produce formal Veterinary Health and Welfare Plans. 

The Code bans the use of 3rdand 4th generation cephalosporins and colistin at any age and fluoroquinolones in day old birds. The BEIC has collected information on antimicrobial use since 2015 and this data is included in the VARSS report of antimicrobial use for 2016, published last month. This confirms that the egg sector is already a low user of antimicrobials.

In the meantime, the gamebird industry has issued firm guidance for farmers, gamekeepers, vets and feed manufacturers for prescribing and administering antibiotics to farmed gamebirds.

Vets leading on antimicrobial use

All these groups, as well as the British Veterinary Poultry Association (BVPA), are cooperating with RUMA and the VMD to introduce targets for antibiotics usage across all sectors of the industry, which were announced at the RUMA conference on 27 October.

The BVPA, the BVA’s specialist poultry division, has been very busy in the area of antimicrobial use and resistance – giving expert opinions and comment, and collaborating on working groups as well as drawing up and revising guidelines. Perhaps most importantly, BVPA members are working daily with poultry farmers to educate and encourage them in responsible antibiotic use, in conjunction with good husbandry and management practices.

More information

  • Our special blog series on antimicrobial resistance, AMR in Focus, invites experts from the fields of veterinary science, academia and government to share perspectives on key achievements, latest research and future action needed to tackle this serious issue. All opinions in the blogs reflect those of the writer.
  • For more discussions on antimicrobial resistance, join us at BVA Congress at the London Vet Show (16-17 November) for a Friday afternoon session on 'The psychology of antimicrobial resistance: what can social science tell us?', featuring David Brodbelt, Professor of Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine at Royal Veterinary College; Ian Donald, Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Director, Mulberry Research & Consulting Ltd, and Kristen Reyher, Senior Lecturer in Farm Animal Science at the University of Bristol.

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