Gamebird sector posts commendable antibiotic-use reductions

Posted on June 25, 2018 by Philip P Hammond

Pheasant - gamebirdFollowing a joined-up initiative last year by a range of stakeholders including the British Veterinary Poultry Association, British Veterinary Association, The Countryside Alliance, The Game Farmers’ Association, RUMA, Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Game Feed Trade Association, the gamebird sector has achieved a 36% reduction in antibiotic use in just one year, with the use of antibiotics in game feeds falling by an impressive 53%.

With the help of vets working in the game sector, the group have set a further game sector target: to reduce antibiotic usage in UK gamebirds by at least another 25% between now and the end of 2020. As the 2018 rearing season begins, it is timely to share an overview of the five-point plan for reducing antibiotics that was announced by the group earlier this year:

Best possible gamebird management to reduce disease and the need for antibiotics

Gamebirds are usually produced outside and are thus exposed to diseases from wild birds and other vectors. There are very few medicines licensed specifically for treating gamebird disease, and for some – or perhaps most- gamebird managers, antibiotics have come to be regarded as a ‘solution’ to these difficulties, although in fact antibiotics cannot directly cure gut parasites such as hexamita.

A better approach is to get biosecurity and game management right in the first place, making it harder for birds to contract any disease and, if they do, ensuring that conditions are such that it will not thrive. This requires a healthy parent flock, clean disease-free eggs, lower stocking densities, quality food and the avoidance of damp ground on the rearing field.

The best place for gamebird keepers to start is to work up a health plan with a gamebird vet, who will be well acquainted with the need to reduce antibiotics and the best ways to achieve it.

Best practice in prescribing antibiotics

Best practice in prescribing antibiotics was the focus of a similar Joint Communication this time last year – and it made a huge difference. Referencing the relevant Veterinary Medicines Regulations and the prescribing requirements of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the BVA, we clearly established that:

“Antibiotics for incorporation into gamebird feed should not be prescribed at all unless the birds in question have been visited by the vet responsible for them or a clinical assessment of the birds has been undertaken by the vet (e.g. post mortem examination) and a need to prescribe AB has been established.”

All the main gamebird veterinary practices supported this position as did the entire game feed trade, hence the 53% reduction in antibiotics incorporated in game feed in 2017.

Recording all antibiotic use and monitoring bird welfare

All keepers and rearers of gamebirds are required by law to retain records of any antibiotic administration. It also helps good management and it allows national monitoring of antibiotic usage so we can measure our progress against our sector reduction target. But as vets strive to reduce antibiotics, we also need to record and monitor gamebird health. Welfare is paramount and we need evidence of where antibiotics are absolutely necessary as well as knowing where it is not.

Helping each other: “We are all in this together”

We need to face the challenge of reducing antibiotics collectively and that means helping each other. Be open about disease issues and the treatments used. If you think someone is doing wrong or using antibiotics unnecessarily, say so. Alert others who may not have heard about this campaign or not seen this Joint Communication. Explain that ‘We are all in this together!’

Clamping down on unlawful antibiotic supply and incorrect use

Finally, we also need to work together to stamp out unlawful supplies of antibiotics and/or their incorrect use. Using antibiotics in birds for which they have not been prescribed is illegal; so too is keeping medicated feed on the farm without a prescription for specific birds.

If you think someone is breaking the law please report them, either to one of the organisations named above or direct to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

As you’ll see from this five-point plan, antibiotics for incorporation into gamebird feed should not be prescribed at all unless a vet responsible for their care has visited the birds in question or undertaken a clinical assessment that establishes the need to prescribe antibiotics.

As stewards of antibiotic use, let’s all work towards achieving this target to help to reduce antibiotics so that the gamebird sector can make a significant contribution towards reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance development.

Philip P Hammond

Written by Philip P Hammond

Dr Philip Hammond is the current BVPA President, as well as the UK Branch Secretary of the World Veterinary Poultry Association. Phil has been a dedicated poultry veterinarian for the past 15 years after qualifying from the Royal Veterinary College in 2003.