Antibiotic Reduction in game birds: Targets Exceeded!
In May this year, a number of organisations and veterinary practices involved in the shooting industry met, hosted by the Game Farmers’ Association, to discuss the use of antibiotics in game bird rearing. The conversations focused on the quantity of antibiotics used, our reliance on them and the route in which we deliver them to our birds. The aims of the meeting were to set targets for gradually reducing our reliance on antibiotics to meet the growing pressure from governmental and global bodies to cut our usage of antibiotics in the game bird sector. Read the full article here.
The intention of the stakeholder group was to set targets for this rearing season. In order to set targets, we had to determine just how much we have been using in the first place. Unfortunately, our usage figures were considerably higher than what we had predicted and ashamedly we were a long way off the usage in the poultry and pig sector. The silver lining, however, we can make great improvements and that is just what has happened. Great news; the game bird sector has cut its antibiotic usage by 36%!
Having finished the rearing season, the time at which we use antibiotics, the figures for the game bird sector have been made available and they reveal that we have achieved a 53% reduction for antibiotics administered in the feed and a 36% reduction in total antibiotic usage. The stakeholder group had set a 2017 target of reducing by 25% so the sector is very pleased to have successful hit our target. We are fully aware that the biggest gains have been made in reducing in-feed antibiotics and this remains one of the areas where we will continue to refine protocols for prescribing and dispensing. These large reductions have been achieved voluntarily and in just one year. The reduction has required the compliance of all involved including keepers, farmers, the game feed trade and veterinary professionals.
These results come at a time when there is growing pressure and expectation to reduce the usage of antibiotics in food-producing animals, and at times we must remind ourselves that game bird do make up part of the food-chain, meaning we have a responsibility to record the medicines we prescribe to them. Sales of antibiotics across the livestock sector have dropped by 27% in the last two years which exceed the government targets and are two years ahead of schedule. Sales of high-priority critically important antibiotics (HP-CIAs) only accounted for less than 1% of all antibiotics sold to livestock in 2016. This hopefully demonstrates an understanding and acceptance from the industry and the veterinary profession, and that we all have a role in safeguarding animal welfare but also human health.
Targets were drawn up across the livestock sector by the Targets Task Force (TTF), who are responsible for collecting and publishing the data on antibiotic usage. They identified eight sectors within the livestock industry; beef, diary, poultry meat, eggs, pigs, sheep, fish and game birds. All the targets were advised by specialist vets within each sector and then approved by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).
Targets for the game bird sector:
•25 per cent reduction in tonnage of antibiotic active used in 2017 compared to 2016
•25 per cent reduction in use of HP-CIAs by 2017
•Further reduction of 25 per cent between the end of 2017 and end of 2020
Figures on livestock antibiotic usage were released recently by Defra in the Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance (VARSS). This report is available on the Defra website and covers information on the amount of antibiotics purchased, prescribed and/or administered to livestock species.
Antibiotics are used in all livestock sectors to treat naturally occurring diseases. They cannot legally be used in the UK as growth promotors. Their use is often essential to safeguard the health and welfare of animals produced in intensive systems but does not allow for the covering up of poor management or husbandry. The prescribing and dispensing of antibiotics, which will become more rigorous and vigilant, will remain available to ensure that animal welfare is not compromised. However, it is important to stress that all veterinary surgeons will need to see the birds in questions, whether as a post mortem or site visit, and will have to make a diagnosis before prescribing antibiotics for treatment, rather than prophylactic (preventative) use.
The game bird sector stakeholder group met again this November to review the progress made and the lessons learnt in the last six months for the sector on this topic. Top tips and advice arising from the meetings will be made available to game farmers, free of charge, to help assistance and anticipate the continued reductions in antibiotic usage for next year’s rearing season. It is advisable to work closely with your game bird vet to write veterinary health plans which are specific to your rearing sites and game farms, and includes strategies and alternatives to help reduce your reliance and usage of antibiotics. Unfortunately, this is not an issue which ignorance will overcome and we must continue to work together to produce healthy game birds.