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UK livestock sector agrees to restrict use of antibiotic colistin

The UK farming and veterinary sectors have agreed to new proposals to restrict use of colistin while an EU risk assessment takes place, following new evidence of resistance to the drug published in China.
The pig, poultry and cattle sectors will be affected by the proposals
The pig, poultry and cattle sectors will be affected by the proposals

The UK livestock industry has agreed to voluntary restrictions on the use of colistin, a ‘last-line antibiotic’, in response to new evidence of resistance to it in livestock and humans.

 

The restrictions, which will be in place while an EU risk assessment takes place, will limit colistin use to ‘an antibiotic of last resort’ and to used only after susceptibility testing had shown it was the only effective antibiotic available for treating the sick animals.

 

The decision was announced by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), an alliance of 24 organisations representing ‘farm to fork’, which aims to promote best practice in the use of medicines on farm.

 

It was made following the publication of a study in China last month, which found high levels of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) to an important antibiotic, colistin, used to treat E.coli on farms and in human patients.

 

The study reported the resistance was caused by a new gene that makes common bacteria resistant to colistin, prompting fresh warnings the world could be on the brink of a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.

 

It also and led to calls for a ban on the use of antibiotics in livestock when the same drugs are also used to treat humans.

Risk assessment

The EU had called for a revised risk assessment on colistin use in animals.

 

RUMA secretary general John FitzGerald said the alliance had consulted the veterinary sectors who use colistin, pigs, poultry and cattle, and they had agreed to restrict their use of colistin while the risks were being re-assessed.

 

He said this was a ‘positive and proportionate response’ particularly as no E Coli colistin resistance in the UK was reported in the latest surveillance results’.

 

While there are no official figures for colistin use in the UK, RUMA said it was understood ‘less than a tonne each year is used in UK livestock’.

 

“It is, therefore, difficult to quantify the impact of the proposal but vets will now have new guidance on how to use colistin,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

 

For example, colistin is being moved from category 2 to category 3 in vets’ antimicrobial prescribing guidance, which means ‘we would expect less colistin to be used’, he added.

 

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has called for a proportionate response to the Chinese study.

 

BVA senior vice-president John Blackwell acknowledged, in light of the evidence, ‘it would be pragmatic to carry out new risk assessments’.

 

But he added: "Yet this shouldn’t create a reaction that leads to the withdrawal of antibiotic use in animals as it is essential to maintain the health and welfare of both companion and food animals.

 

"Rather the China study reinforces the need for responsible antibiotic use in both human and animal medicine."

 

 

 


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Chinese study

  • The study, published in the Lancet, found resistance in E coli isolates collected from more than one in five, 166 out of 804, animals tested between 2011 and 2014.
  • Resistance was found in 15 per cent of more than 500 samples of raw meat tested.
  • It was also found in 16 out of 1322 samples (1 per cent) of human inpatients with infection.
  • The researchers said the emergence of MCR-1, the resistance mechanism identified in the study, ‘heralds the breach of the last group of antibiotics, polymyxins, by plasmid-mediated resistance’.
  • While resistance to colistin has been detected before, this study prompted extra concern because of the way the mutation that causes the resistance is known to be easily shared between bacteria.
  • Although currently confined to China, the researchers warned MCR-1 was likely spread around the world and make previously treatable infection untreatable.
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