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‘Remarkable’ reduction in antibiotics use by poultry farmers

British poultrymeat producers have cut antibiotic use by more than 80% in the past six years, an achievement described by chief vet Christine Middlemiss as ‘remarkable’.

The latest figures reveal broiler producers used just 9.85mg/PCU of antibiotics in 2017, almost 40% less than the year before.

Medicine use across Europe is measured in mg of drugs per ‘Population Correction Unit’ – a statistical measure that takes into account the number and weight of different livestock, for easy comparison.

As a whole, the sector used 9.72% of the total antibiotics licenced for use in food producing animals, despite chicken accounting for almost half the meat eaten in the UK.

The report also puts the amount of antibiotics given to turkeys down, at 45.18mg/PCU compared with 219.50mg/PCU in 2014.

It is compiled by the British Poultry Council (BPC), which accounts for nearly 90% of poultry produced in the UK.

Photo: Bart Nijs
Photo: Bart Nijs

Efforts have also been made to reduce use – or remove entirely – antibiotics considered critically important to human health.

The sector pulled the use of second- and third-generation cephalosporins in 2012, took colistin out of the supply chain in 2016 and has cut the use of Fluoroquinolones 91% in six years.

Farmers and vets have managed the reduction by adopting a three ‘R’s approach, namely replacing medicines with effective alternatives, reducing the number of birds treated where possible, and refining strategies.

But the BPC warned against removing antibiotics entirely from poultry production, saying they are a necessary part of good husbandry.

Its chairman, John Reed, said: “Responsible use of antibiotics is about so much more than reduction targets. Zero use is neither ethical nor sustainable as it goes against farmers’ duty to alleviate pain and suffering.

“We stand committed to ensuring that antibiotic therapies are used with good animal husbandry techniques, ‘only when necessary’, and under the direction of a veterinarian, to protect the health and welfare of birds under our care.”

UK chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss added: “The achievements made by members of the BPC are remarkable.

“Continuously reviewing on-farm biosecurity and disease management practices whilst ensuring prudent use of antibiotics is integral to the sustainability of British agriculture.”

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