The UK’s poultry sector has recorded another drop in antibiotics use, taking the total to a 71% reduction in 4 years, despite production being up 11%. British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths tells us how.
The British poultry meat industry is a national asset. The sector rears nearly a billion birds for food every year, providing half the meat that the country eats. An industry that is proud of feeding the nation with wholesome, nutritious and affordable meat that the UK consumer trusts.
We know that British poultry means a secure supply, knowing where our food comes from, and standards everyone can trust. But there is more to it than just our high animal welfare and food safety standards.
What makes us proud of our home-grown produce is our leadership – from promoting sustainability, accepting change, encouraging innovation, sharing best practice, to strengthening traceability across our supply chain.
Let’s look at the British Poultry Council’s Antibiotic Stewardship – an initiative which has enabled us to become the world leader for knowledge and practice on effective management of antibiotics use, while safeguarding the efficacy of antibiotics, and protecting the health and welfare of birds. The level of antibiotics used in our production is very low and we have also significantly reduced the use of highest priority antibiotics that are critically important for human health.
We have cut our total use of antibiotics by 71% in the past four years, while production has increased by 11% to nearly one billion birds a year. We have also stopped the prophylactic use of antibiotics as well as the use of colistin and contributed to the new antibiotic standards for Red Tractor Poultry Assurance.
None of this would have been possible without the commitment and dedication of our highly professional people who work round the clock to review on-farm management practices and embed the responsible use of antibiotics throughout our supply chain.
It’s evident that zero use is not an option. Our farmers and veterinarians need antibiotics in their toolbox to treat sick birds. Our Stewardship is much more than reduction targets – it’s about safeguarding the efficacy of antibiotics as part of sustainable food production and about feeding the nation with the food British consumers trust.
Our next challenge is to examine the link between antibiotic use and resistance in poultry production chain, and to meaningfully contribute to the global debate on antimicrobial resistance – which poses a challenge on human and animal health.
We are confident that by working with the Government, we can continue stepping up our efforts towards sustainable use of antibiotics and uphold UK’s position at the forefront of international efforts to tackle antimicrobial resistance.
‘Review, then replace where possible’
“Farm animals, like people, get ill, and need antibiotics to preserve their health, says BPC veterinary advisor Daniel Parker.
“The poultry meat sector’s clinical governance approach involves prescribing the most appropriate treatment for the birds in our care without comprising bird health and welfare.
Our farmers ensure that antibiotic therapies are used with good animal husbandry techniques ‘only when necessary’ and under the direction of a veterinarian. The poultry meat industry is committed to a Clinical Governance approach, which helps us better understand how and why antibiotics are used.
Our Antibiotic Stewardship is based on the successful implementation of the three R’s (Replace, Reduce and Refine), supported by the principles of animal husbandry, hygiene and stockmanship, which are implemented by our people at every step of the production chain.
We review and replace antibiotics used where effective alternatives are available, carry out risk assessments and look at ways to reduce the number of birds receiving treatment, and continue to refine existing strategies using data collection.
As part of our clinical governance approach, any use of a Critically Important Antibiotic such as Fluoroquinolones or Macrolides is reported in detail to the British Poultry Council including the case history and outcome of the treatment.
“It’s like a Holland & Barrett approach to bird health”
Faccenda Foods has cut its antibiotic use by more than two-thirds by adopting a range of natural alternatives to medicines that stimulate good gut health in the poultry it farms.
Working with its vets, St David’s Poultry Team, Faccenda has developed a programme of healthcare that utilises substances such as probiotics and natural oils to manage birds’ health.
A probiotic is now administered to day-old chicks, while water analysis and the addition of natural acids to drinking lines helps to maintain safe and palatable water. A yeast extract included in feed rations “binds” undesirable bacteria in the gut.
Regular vet visits mean farmers can act quickly should there be a health challenge, with an array of natural products available to get the birds back on track at all 80 of Faccenda’s poultry farms.
“It’s like a Holland & Barrett approach to bird health,” says David Neilson, general manager for chicken agriculture at Faccenda. “We use essential oils, oregano and garlic.”
“Antimicrobial resistance is a world human health issue,” adds Richard Turner, director at St David’s Poultry Team. “Antibiotic use in agriculture is also a growing concern for consumers so it’s really important that we focus on it.”