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16 July 2014|News

Replace reduce refine - A way forward for Antibiotic use in agriculture


A framework for replacement, reduction and refinement needs to be established for the responsible use of antimicrobials along the food supply chain. This is one of the main findings put forward by a top-level roundtable, Antimicrobials – Who Needs Them, chaired by the sustainable farming research and development business, the Food Animal Initiative, and pharmaceutical company, Ceva.

The roundtable, which was held last month, also agreed a path for establishing new and standardised measures for antibiotic use that can be implemented at producer level, as well as to direct changes in the way antibiotics are used at both national and regional level. A common understanding and definition of the term “Critically Important Antimicrobials” (CIA) and which antibiotics that are used in food producing animals can be described as ‘critically important’ is also urgently required.

The roundtable drew together vets, food scientists, farmers and representatives of the food and animal health industries to discuss concerns over the use of antibiotics and the growing problems that are being encountered regarding antibiotic resistance and human health.

Managing Director of Ceva UK and Ireland, Alan Doyle, commented: “We convened the roundtable to explore ways to effectively and responsibly manage antimicrobial use in food production in a way that decelerates the development of resistance in both humans and animals, protects animal welfare, and ensures our ability to feed the world in a safe and sustainable manner.”

“There is now clear public consensus that we need to take action to protect the future of antibiotics. Our objective in organising this roundtable with the Food Animal Initiative was to identify practical steps through which we can restore the central roles of the veterinarian and the animal at the centre of a rational prescription process. The 3R's and other practical resolutions resulting from the coming together of all stakeholders are the first steps to influencing real action at the farm level”.

The roundtable recognised that there is variation in the attitudes of farmers and vets to the use of antibiotics and that poor practice in their use is often the result of a lack of knowledge or understanding about them. By changing existing behaviour and through training and standard practices, the situation could be improved.

Chair of the roundtable and Veterinary Director of the Food Animal Initiative, Ruth Layton, commented: “Vets must ultimately be responsible for prescribing antibiotics and vets too need training and support to ensure this is carried out responsibly. A new way of measuring the use and dosage of antibiotics - bringing the measurement for animals closer to the definition of a defined daily dose (DDD) that is used for humans - would support this.”

The roundtable concluded that the most important way forward to stimulate responsible use of antibiotics in livestock production was to adapt measures introduced in the 1950’s to replace, reduce and refine their use. And the measures that should be implemented by vets, farmers, producers, retailers and the pharmaceutical industry, need to be communicated to consumers.

The measures were brought in 60 years ago to address concerns about the responsible use of animals for experimental scientific research, but the round table said that the principles are equally applicable to the use of antimicrobials.

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