In a bid to protect the farming industry against stricter regulations, farmers are being urged to voluntarily reduce the use of critically important antimicrobials (CIA).
David Barrett, from Bristol University says: “There has been agreement on this position amongst the veterinary associations, farmer organisations and milk buyers, but there needs to be more widespread awareness at producer level, particularly within the vet and farmer relationship.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the use of antibiotics in animals produced for food is having a significant effect on the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs in humans.
The WHO’s aim is to preserve the effectiveness of antimicrobials critical in human medicine, and it is looking to farmers to help them do so. They have created a classification system for antimicrobials based on the extent they are important to human medicine, they are categorised into three classes; important, highly important and critically important.
Critically important antimicrobials, including some antibiotics, have been identified by the WHO as focus area for the agricultural industry, the WHO says the use of antimicrobials used to treat food-producing animals create an important source of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in humans.
Although it is nearly impossible to estimate the scale of antibiotic usage in food-producing animals in the UK, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) alliance has set out some targets to allow each sector to work towards reducing their usage. The target task force aims to create a behaviour change in both farmers and vets, moving away from antibiotics and implementing preventative measures such as vaccination.
The RUMA guidelines focus on helping farmers and their vets to establish alternative approaches to decreasing their use of CIA’s on farm including improved management and biosecurity, herd-level disease testing, implementation of culling protocols and improved housing. This will be carried out alongside training for students, vets and farmers.
“There are some notable examples of veterinary practices that have worked with their clients to eliminate the use of CIA’s, these are the exceptions but they illustrate what is possible.” Says Prof Barrett.
The Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) has been working closely with RUMA and farmers to promote a focus on cutting down the need for using CIA’s on farm, by preventing and eliminating disease and creating herd health plans.
Prof Barrett continues: “Farms with a robust herd health plan, where challenges are reduced, will be in the best position to minimise use of CIA’s. This takes time and is most effective where there is good cooperation between the farm and its veterinary practice.
“Achieving a significant reduction in the use of CIA’s voluntarily will not only minimise the likelihood of disruptive and potentially punitive legislation but will put our cattle industry on the front foot and strengthen its position in global markets.”