Industry chiefs have accepted new Government targets to cut antibiotic use by 19 per cent by 2018, despite recommendations in a Defra-commissioned report to phase in the reduction over 10 years.
The Government laid out its commitment in response to growing pressure surrounding antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans, which numerous scientific papers have linked to overuse of antibiotics in livestock.
Following publication of the O’Neill review in May, Defra set a new target of 50mg of antibiotics used per 1kg of meat produced, as a cross-species average, by 2018.
Based on sales recorded by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) in 2014, 62mg/kg was used in 2014, representing a 19 per cent cut in four years.
Lord O’Neill’s review said ‘targets could be set over 10 years, with milestones to ensure regular progress’, but the Government said it wanted to ‘lead the way’ in reducing antibiotic use.
National Office of Animal Health chief executive Dawn Howard said: “Inappropriate targets for reduction in use, or the removal of antibiotics that vets and farmers need to treat diseases, could adversely impact on animal welfare and the price of food from animals.
"As long as we rely on animals as a source of food production, we have an obligation to care for their health and well-being and this must include providing proper treatment and care when they are ill.”
John Fitzgerald, secretary general of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance said while he recognised the need for ‘ambitious’ targets, he was disappointed that in its response, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) had not acknowledged industry guidelines for use of antibiotics which were already in place through RUMA.
Mr Fitzgerald said: “The FSA outlines a commitment to encourage the food chain to develop standards for responsible use of antibiotics.
"We would hope rather than recreating standards, RUMA guidelines, written by specialist vets and updated periodically, will be reviewed and augmented as deemed necessary.”
He added there was no recognition of the ‘huge role’ capital investment could play in reducing the need for antibiotics in farming and where the investment could come from.
British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Sean Wensley said it had, in the past, been opposed to the introduction of arbitrary, non-evidence-based target setting, but accepted evidence-based targets to reduce usage in animal agriculture were likely to form part of the solution to address AMR on a global scale.
Mr Wensley said the BVA would be working with Government to develop sector-specific targets through the RUMA Targets Task Force.
He said it was critical vets’ ability to treat animal disease outbreaks was not restricted.