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RUMA chair writes to the Guardian to correct misleading claims

20th Nov 2019 / By Alistair Driver

Gwyn Jones, chairman of the Responsible use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance has written to the Guardian to correct claims made in an article about antibiotic use in farming.

Gwyn JonesThe article, published on Monday, highlighted claims by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics that Brexit could weaken the UK's rules on antibiotics in farming. It said Brexit threatens to 'open up loopholes in the UK’s regulations that would mean diverging from strengthening EU standards on antibiotic use in farming, and the pressure from potential trade deal partners will be to lower standards'.

ASOA, which is calling for a complete ban on 'preventive mass medication' of livestock, claimed there were already signs of divergence as the Government has to date not committed to the zinc oxide ban that will be enforced at EU level in 2022.

You can read the full article here

RUMA was asked for comment and gave a detailed response, but the comment was not used in the article. 

Mr Jones has therefore written to the Guardian in a letter for publication that will he hopes will put the letter straight, including highlight the huge progress made across the farming sector on recent years. 

The letter, with references below, states: 

Sir/Madam,

What a shame all the achievements of UK livestock farmers and vets in halving antibiotic use within five years [1], making us the lowest user of antibiotics as a major food producing country in the EU, are ignored yet again (Brexit could weaken rules on antibiotics in farming, activists warn; 18 November).

Government has repeatedly stated its intention to implement new EU regulations on veterinary use of antibiotics in 2022 [2] so why are activists suggesting the opposite?

To correct other baffling claims: while more antibiotics may be used for animals than humans globally, in this country less than 30% of the total is used to treat livestock [3]; ionophores are not classified as antibiotics, and are safe when treating poultry for internal parasites but can be toxic to people when using treatment dose levels – hence are unlikely to ever be used in human medicine [4]; and reductions mean antibiotic use per kg is actually now comparable to Swann’s day in 1967 [5].

I could continue, but suffice to say the UK has become a leading example of responsible farm antibiotic use globally and this is something we should all be proud of.

Gwyn Jones, Chairman, Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance www.ruma.org.uk

[1] Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance 2018 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/veterinary-antimicrobial-resistance-and-sales-surveillance-2018

[2] https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2018-10-08/176052/

[3] One Health Report 2013-2017 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-one-health-report-antibiotic-use-and-antibiotic-resistance-in-animals-and-humans

[4] Everything you want to know about ionophore use https://www.britishpoultry.org.uk/why-do-poultry-meat-farmers-use-ionophores-antiparasitics/

[5] In House of Commons Briefing Paper 3339, 25 June 2019 “Agriculture: historical statistics”, cattle numbers have increased by c.25% since 1967, pig and poultry numbers by c.30% each, and sheep numbers by c.67%; increase in tonnage since 1967 is c.35%

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