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Access to capital will be key to achieving antibiotic reduction - RUMA

19th Sep 2016 / By Alistair Driver


The alliance coordinating the livestock industry’s efforts to reduce usage of antibiotics has stressed the industry will need access to capital to achieve this.

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) alliance has welcomed the headline requirements for farming set out in the Government’s response to the O’Neill Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, published on Friday (September 16). 

These include confirmation of targets for reducing antibiotic usage by almost a fifth by 2018 and a tougher stance, including possible new regulation, on antibiotics deemed critical to human medicine.

But RUMA expressed concerns over whether the industry will be able to access the capital investment needed to create a greater step-change in antibiotic use.

The Government has granted RUMA, comprising 25 organisations spanning the farming, veterinary, animal medicine and supply chain sectors, the role of working with the VMD to set sector-specific objectives to reduce, refine and replace use of antibiotics.

The alliance said it recognised the need for the ambitious target for farming set out in the O’Neill report, alongside the goals for human medicine stewardship.

JFG“The UK farming industry is being asked to play its part, in reducing antibiotic use by around 19% by 2018 based on sales recorded by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate in 2014,” said John FitzGerald, RUMA’s secretary general.

“This will be testing, but we are confident and determined that the industry can rise to the challenge. While the O’Neill report suggested achieving this level of use within 10 years, we understand the need for the UK to take a lead, and believe we can deliver this reduction by 2018.”

Capital investment

But Mr FitzGerald said there was no recognition in the Government’s response of the huge role capital investment could play in reducing the need for antibiotics in farming, and where that investment could come from.

“Farmers have already identified housing and infrastructure as a major challenge. In pig farming, some aspects of poultry production and calf-rearing especially, modern housing with improved ventilation and hygiene could provide a step-change in the need for antibiotics to treat diseases linked to these factors,” he said.

With margins tight in many sectors he urged the Government to take a serious look at how it can ‘prime the pump’ when the market is unlikely to provide sufficient returns.

He suggested the UK should adopt a similar approach to the likes of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark where Government investment has resulted in significant improvements to facilities leading to a reduction in antibiotic use.

The NPA, in its response to the Government announcement, which can be seen here, also stressed the need for support for improvements to farm buildings to improve animal health and welfare.

Elsewhere in its response, RUMA said it was disappointed the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had not acknowledged its industry guidelines for use of antibiotics.

 “The FSA outlines a commitment to encourage the food chain to develop standards for responsible use of antibiotics. We would hope that rather than recreating standards, the RUMA guidelines, written by specialist vets and updated periodically, will be reviewed and augmented as deemed necessary,” Mr FitzGerald.

RUMA is currently setting up a ‘Targets Task Force’ to help identify these objectives by 2017, alongside timescales for their delivery.

BVA response

British Veterinary Association (BVA) resident Sean Wensley welcomed the Government’s commitment to viewing AMR as an international issue and to supporting action at home and globally.

He said BVA opposed the introduction of arbitrary, non-evidence based targets to reduce antibiotic use, warning such targets risk restricting vets’ ability to treat animal diseases.

But he said BVA accepted that evidence-based targets to reduce usage in animal agriculture were likely to form part of the solution to address AMR and confirmed it would work with working with Government to develop sector specific targets through the RUMA Targets Task Force.