Sophie Edenborough, Nuffield Scholarship Report 2015
Over the last few years there has been a growing public and media interest in the threat to public health from the development of resistance to antibiotics. Resistance to antibiotics is a problem in both human medicine and agriculture alongside the possibility of transfer of resistant bacteria between species. The development of antibiotic resistance cannot be eradicated but the rate of development can be slowed. Without functioning antibiotics the UK poultry industry will be at risk of disease and will be unable to prevent the spread of disease and infection. Therefore the UK poultry industry should look at the way it uses antibiotics and try to preserve their efficacy to ensure antibiotics remain an option for disease treatment.
The aim of this study tour and report was to establish what drives changes to the way in which poultry farmers use antibiotics - Is it legislation or market demand? The study also wanted to determine exactly what poultry farmers were doing at farm level that enabled them to produce birds with little or no antibiotics. For this report visits were made to the Netherlands, the United States of America, and Brazil. The US was visited to see its companies producing antibiotic-free poultry meat for the retailers and the professionals involved in making this happen; Brazil to examine changes that companies made to their production practices to enable them to export to Europe; and the Netherlands to examine the effects of enforced legislation to reduce antibiotics.
There are a number of key areas that poultry production companies and farmers need to consider when assessing their options for reducing or removing antibiotics. Alternatives to antibiotics should not be overlooked but approached with caution and what works on one farm may not produce the same results on a different farm. Ensuring good quality water is available to the birds is highly important with a number of producers utilising systems that enable continual water sanitation throughout a crop. Each farm should be assessed individually for its risk points (when it normally uses antibiotics) and procedures put in place to reduce the risks.
Poultry production companies need to be aware that individual farms may require different approaches to aid reduction or removal of antibiotics and it is unlikely that one programme will work for all their growers. If legislation is going to be changed to affect the way UK poultry producers use antibiotics then these changes should be brought in slowly to give the industry time to adjust and adapt. This will ensure that bird welfare is not put at risk.
UK poultry producers need to see any legislative changes or producer requirements for less or no antibiotics as an opportunity to assess and improve their production practices. It also needs to be understood that “No antibiotics ever” is not a viable option and that antibiotics should be available if necessary for disease control and bird welfare.