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RUMA hits back at medics' calls for antibiotic ban

14th Nov 2016 / By Alistair Driver


The RUMA alliance has issued a strongly worded response to calls by medics for an immediate UK ban on preventative mass medication of farmed livestock.

In a letter published in the Daily Telegraph today (November 14) and reported prominently in the paper and on its website, leading figures from the medical profession call for the Government to ‘immediately introduce a UK-wide ban on the routine preventative mass medication of animals’.

It also calls on Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP to ‘urgently curb farm use of the ‘critically important’ antibiotics’.

The letter, published on the first days of World Antibiotic Awareness Week, is signed by the heads of 12 royal medical colleges, as well as the Faculty of Public Health, the British Medical Association and two leading health journals.

They claimed Brexit meant the UK was now in an 'ideal position' to implement a ban. 

Exceptionally disappointing 

In its response, the RUMA (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture) alliance describes the letter as ‘exceptionally disappointing’.

It accuses its authors of hypocrisy, given from those heading human and animal medicine in the UK to stop the ‘blame game’ on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as all parties work together to implement the global One Health AMR strategy.

The alliance said: “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.

We currently use 37 per cent of the UK’s antibiotics to manage disease and infection, and produce safe food from over a billion farm animals in the UK every year.

“Strict withdrawal periods mean antibiotic residues in food are not an issue, but overall use, as in human medicine, must fall as farming plays its part in reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

Echoing the sentiments of an NPA press release published earlier today outlining the various ways the pig industry is ‘stepping up to the antibiotic challenge’, the RUMA alliance stresses that the farming industry is taking the issue seriously.

It pointed out how the vital antibiotic colistin, which for decades was used almost solely in veterinary medicine, has been voluntarily restricted in all species. Furthermore, many critically important antibiotics (CIAs), currently forming less than 1 per cent of annual use, can now only be applied by individual injection.

The UK is among the lower users of antibiotics in farming within the EU and, in reducing use by some 60 per cent in the past six years, the Netherlands is now at approximately the same level as us, RUMA noted.  

The Government has set a target of reducing antibiotic use in farming by around 20 per cent by 2018. The RUMA alliance has been given the task of overseeing the setting sector-specific objectives to cut and refine use through its Targets Task Force set up earlier this year.

Antibiotic data

RUMA, chaired by Gwyn Jones and whose 28 members include NPA, said it was eagerly awaiting the latest annual UK antibiotic data, to be released later this week, to see what progress is being made.

It said efforts would continue to ‘reduce, refine and replace antibiotic use in a measured and scientifically-robust way’, despite the fact resistance in humans continues 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.

RUMA said: “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.

“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.”