By Philippa Wiltshire, head of operations, Red Tractor
It’s become almost commonplace, headlines warning people of the dangers of the widespread use of antibiotics. And it is a phenomenon that poses a global threat to public health around the world. What is often not talked about is that this challenge isn’t only something faced by doctors and patients, but its impact can also be felt by the environment, our pets and on farms.
It is not a new problem. Resistant bacteria that is millions of years old has been found in frozen ice caps. But the threat is now something that cannot be ignored. Put simply, antibiotics will naturally continue to become less effective, but the risk is accelerated if action isn’t taken. The responsibility lies with all of us – families, GPs, politicians, farmers, vets, and others.
I’ve worked for the UK’s largest food and farming assurance scheme, Red Tractor, since its inception almost 20 years ago. Created after a spate of food scares to rebuild trust in British food and farming, and to bring industry consensus across the key issues. Antibiotic use is a prime example of how we’ve introduced a raft of measures to drive down use, by ensuring that disease prevention underpins our standards – particularly in livestock.
For us the consequences of overuse are so important that we require accredited farms to go above and beyond legislation. It’s the right thing to do.
Our standards defining the use and recording of antibiotics were strengthened across all our livestock sectors two years ago – effectively shoring-up the UK farming industry’s commitment to play its part in tackling antimicrobial resistance.
Take a pint of milk, a leg of lamb or a ribeye steak as an example; if it is Red Tractor assured, shoppers can be confident that if any antibiotics are used at any stage of the supply chain from farm to pack, it will only be because they were necessary, and they have been recorded and monitored by vets and inspectors.
Figures released by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate last month showed that sales of highest priority critically important antibiotics (HP-CIAs) in 2018 dropped by 18% from 2017. And in the same period, sales of veterinary antibiotics for use in food-producing animals decreased by 9%.
Earlier this year Westpoint Vet Tim Potter studied 2,764 beef, sheep and dairy farm records and found that following the introduction of the new Red Tractor standards, use of HP-CIAs fell by 92%.
All of which demonstrates the ‘unseen’ benefits of an industry-leading farm assurance scheme.
Farmers only treat issues under strict guidelines overseen by highly qualified vets. Of course, this is not to say that animals don’t have access to adequate medicines. They are administered as much as necessary, but as little as possible.
We require pig farmers to submit antibiotic use data every three months. While our poultry farms that produce great British chicken for major brands such as KFC and Nando’s, record total antibiotic use down to the milligram for each flock of birds.
We are on a journey and have not yet reached our destination, but by supporting the work of RUMA’s Targets Task Force, we are taking our responsibilities to animals and the public extremely seriously.