RUMA defends preventative antibiotics amid ban call
Published:  15 November, 2016

Pressure to ban the use of preventative antibiotics to treat animals has been criticised by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance. 

In a letter published in the Daily Telegraph on 14 November, several healthcare professionals called for the embargo.

They urged Andrea Leadsom MP, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs and Jeremy Hunt MP, secretary of state for health, to “immediately introduce a UK-wide ban on the routine preventative mass medication of animals and urgently curb farm use of the ‘critically important’ antibiotics”.

Reacting to the call, RUMA said: “This statement is exceptionally disappointing, considering the strong directive from those heading human and animal medicine in the UK to stop the ‘blame game’ on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as we all work together to implement the global One Health AMR [anti-microbial resistance] strategy.”

“In fact this type of orchestrated rhetoric, supported by scant facts, is potentially harmful to the health and welfare of our farm animals, pets and horses,” RUMA continued “... Taking away the option, without good reason, to treat preventatively or to administer treatment in the most effective manner or to restrict certain products already being used responsibly and at very low levels, risks creating more severe disease problems and poor welfare.

“We need to migrate to methods of managing disease that involve lower use of antibiotics. But when disease threatens, preventative treatment – sometimes of groups of animals – can be the most effective and least stressful course of action for the animals involved. Healthcare professionals mirror this when treating meningococcal infections in children. Caring for the health and welfare of animals is a serious business and one which should not be jeopardised by poor research and avoiding responsibility.”

The comments coincide with World Antibiotic Awareness Week this week.

The organisation said 37% of the UK’s antibiotics use was dedicated to managing disease and infection and producing safe food from more than a billion farm animals in the UK every year.

Strict withdrawal periods meant antibiotic residues in food were not an issue, it said. But it recognised that overall antibiotics use, as in human medicine, had to fall as farming played its part in reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“The farming industry is taking this seriously,” stated RUMA. “In poultry meat production total antibiotic use fell by 43% between 2012 and 2015 and use of some critically important antibiotics (CIAs) halved; in 2016, a further commitment was made to stop the prophylactic use of fluoroquinolones in day-old chickens.

“The vital antibiotic colistin, which for decades was used almost solely in veterinary medicine, has been voluntarily restricted in all species, and many CIAs – currently forming less than 1% of annual use – can only be applied by individual injection.”

Aside from this progress, the UK was among the lower users of antibiotics in farming within the EU and, in reducing use by some 60% in the past six years, the Netherlands was at about the same level, said RUMA. “While we rise to the challenge the government has set of reducing antibiotic use in farming by around 20% by 2018, we are pushing ahead with setting our own sector-specific objectives to cut and refine use through a RUMA-led Targets Task Force set up earlier this year.

“We eagerly await the latest annual UK antibiotic data, to be released later this week, to see what progress is being made and keep focused on the goal of progressively reducing, refining and replacing antibiotic use in a measured and scientifically-robust way. This is despite resistance in humans continuing to be largely attributed to human medicine – studies across five European countries including the UK indicate farm animal use is potentially associated with as few as one in every 370 human clinical cases of E.coli infection.”

Meanwhile, the National Pig Association (NPA) published seven steps taken recently to manage the treatment of pigs using antibiotics.

They are:

•    NPA aims to strengthen training requirements for pig farm staff responsible for administering antibiotics. For example, they may be expected to undertake a Certificate of Competence in responsible use of antibiotics in the future.
•    Data for 535 pig units, covering nearly six million pigs, has been entered into the industry database for antibiotic use
•    Entering data onto AHDB Pork’s eMB-Pigs is likely to be made compulsory next year under the Red Tractor Pork assurance scheme, covering over 90% of pig production
•    Practices are changing on farms. For example, one of the UK’s biggest pig producing companies is stopping the administration of antibiotics through feed
•    Awareness of the issue is rising rapidly across the pig industry, with the topic being discussed at numerous industry events over the past year
•    The Pig Veterinary Society’s (PVS’) autumn meeting in Edinburgh included a dedicated session on antimicrobial use and resistance, at which the Chief Veterinary Officer spoke.
•    PVS will also be sharing best practice in antibiotic use at the London Vet Show this week.

The NPA claimed excellent progress was being made in implementing the NPA’s Antibiotic Stewardship Programme, which, published in May, sets out a framework for reducing and refining antibiotic usage in the pig sector.