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UK risks falling behind in farm antibiotic cuts after EU ban | Antibiotics

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The reputation of British agriculture is at risk after its failure to follow the EU in tackling the overuse of antibiotics in healthy animals, campaigners say.

Antibiotic use is the primary driver of antimicrobial resistance, one of the biggest threats to human and animal health. Reducing its use in agriculture is seen as essential, with around two-thirds of the world’s antibiotics given to animals.

From now on [28 January]a ban on the administration of antibiotics to groups of healthy animals comes into force across the EU.

As a result, European farmers will only be able to use antibiotics as a preventive measure only in exceptional cases where the risk of infectious disease is high, and only with individual animals.

UK ministers have previously refused to commit to an outright ban on preventative use – also known as ‘prophylactic use’. The closest to the UK came in 2018, when Agriculture Minister George Eustice told MPs the UK intended to “implement restrictions on preventive use”.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for the government’s Veterinary Drugs Directorate said it would present the proposed regulatory changes for public consultation in 2022. He did not respond to questions about whether he would propose a ban.

“We are committed to reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics in animals and we always intend to strengthen our national legislation in this area.”

The vast majority of livestock antibiotics in the UK are used in the pig and poultry sectors, which have both reported significant reductions, with total antibiotic use for all farm animals falling by 52% between 2014 and 2020.

UK risks falling behind in farm antibiotic cuts after EU ban |  Antibiotics

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The pork and chicken sectors have reported significant reductions in antibiotic use. Photography: Nathan Stirk/Getty

But campaigners say bigger reductions could be achieved if group preventative treatments were banned.

“UK farmers have made good progress in reducing their use of antibiotics,” said Cóilín Nunan, from the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, “but antibiotic use in UK pigs remains twice and half higher per animal than in Denmark and the Netherlands.

“The government cannot claim to be a world leader when the UK is one of the only countries in Western Europe where it will be legal to use antibiotics regularly for the preventive mass medication of farm animals.”

Richard Griffiths, chief executive of the British Poultry Council, said the current voluntary approach had put the UK ahead of most EU countries. “We’re recognized as one of the leading proponents of responsible antibiotic use, so no, I don’t think there’s a risk of us falling behind anyone.

“Much of our success is based on trusting veterinary colleagues to make expert judgments on a case-by-case basis and then sharing what has been learned. Compulsory checks are unnecessary at this stage and would be too blunt an instrument for what is an incredibly complex subject,” Griffiths said.

Cat McLaughlin, chair of the Alliance for Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (Ruma), said there will “always be cases and conditions that inevitably require the treatment of groups of animals to help control protect their health and well-being”.

“Ruma believes it is important that veterinarians have medicines available to fight disease and ensure the health and welfare of animals, following the principles of responsible use: as little as possible, but as much as necessary, at the right time and in the right situations. .”

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