THE British Poultry Council (BPC) has defended the sector’s voluntary approach to antibiotics control after Europe introduced new legislation curbing their use in farm animals. 

Since 2012, the BPC’s Antibiotic Stewardship has helped achieve a 74.2% reduction in the total use of antibiotics in poultrymeat production.

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But the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics (ASOA) has pointed to new rules introduced in Europe that further limit their use in livestock production and accused the UK government of “falling behind”. 

From 28 January, new European law introduced: 

  • A ban on the preventive use of antibiotics in groups of animals;
  • A ban on the preventive use of antimicrobials via medicated feed;
  • Restrictions on the use of antimicrobials as a control treatment to prevent a further spread of infection;
  • A reinforced ban on the use of antimicrobials for promoting growth and increasing yield (in addition to the 2006 prohibition of using antibiotics as growth promoters in feed);
  • The possibility to reserve certain antimicrobials for humans only; 
  • For their exports into the EU, non-EU countries will have to respect the ban on antimicrobials for promoting growth and increasing yield, as well as the restrictions on antimicrobials designated as reserved for human use in the EU.

The UK government says that it will consult this year on making changes to the Veterinary Medicine Regulations, which the ASOA described as a “significant opportunity to influence legislation governing farm animal antibiotic use”. 

Cóilín Nunan, ASOA Scientific Advisor, said: “British farmers have voluntarily reduced their antibiotic use by 50% in recent years. 

“But much larger cuts can still be achieved if the government introduces new laws ending preventative antibiotic group treatments and increasing minimum animal health and welfare standards. 

The BPC’s Richard Griffiths added: “The British poultry industry has a strong sector-led initiative on antibiotic use. 

“Industry has taken this voluntary approach for over a decade and has put the UK ahead of most EU countries. 

“We are recognised as a leading proponent of the responsible use of antibiotics, in delivering good bird health and welfare, and helping produce food consumers can trust.

“A large part of our success is based on trusting veterinary colleagues to make expert judgements on a case-by-case basis and then pooling what has been learnt. 

“Voluntary controls have worked amazingly well and allowed us to move as the science and understanding develops. 

“Compulsory controls are unnecessary at this point and would be too blunt an instrument for what is an incredibly complex subject.

“Delivering excellence in bird health and welfare is the foundation of responsible use of antibiotics: farmers have a duty of care and antibiotics remain a tool in delivering that.”