Northern Ireland has launched a new five-year action plan aimed at fighting antimicrobial resistance (AMR)
The action plan, titled ‘Changing the Culture 2019-2024: One Health’, has been prepared by the Northern Ireland Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), and the Food Standards Agency and was launched together by Chief Veterinary Officer Robert Huey, Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride, and FSA Director in Northern Ireland, Maria Jennings.
The action plan encourages the responsible use of antimicrobials through preventive measures such as improved hygiene, effective vaccination and biosecurity, stronger laboratory capacity and disease surveillance, and investment in innovative therapies and rapid diagnostics.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union said farmers were playing their part when it comes to the fight against antimicrobial resistance but recognised there was more work to be done and the industry could not become complacent. UFU president, Ivor Ferguson said, “Antimicrobial resistance is a global issue and we all have a duty to ensure antibiotics are used responsibly. This five-year strategy is a positive next step in ensuring these vital lifesaving drugs continue to be effective.”
The strategy, developed in partnership by DAERA, the Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency, outlines ways different industries can continue to progress the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The report highlights there has already been an overall reduction in the livestock sector of 40% between 2013 and 2017. The poultry and pig sectors have seen dramatic reductions in antibiotic use with a 79% decrease between 2012 and 2016 and 53% between 2015 and 2017 respectively.
Ferguson said the reductions were a testament to farmers and their industry partners and showed a firm commitment to tackling AMR. “The aim is to reduce, refine and, where possible, replace antibiotic use. The sections in the strategy that relate to agriculture focus on planning ahead to prevent disease wherever possible, keeping livestock healthy and ensuring appropriate and responsible use of antibiotics only where necessary to treat disease and protect animal welfare. There is also a focus on improving availability of data to allow producers to monitor progress and to make informed management decisions. These are all reasonable and achievable objectives on farms,” he said.
“As an industry, we are already making a concerted effort to target and eliminate disease through improved use of screening and vaccines, which will undoubtedly increase animal health,” said Mr Ferguson adding that he is pleased the discussion around AMR has moved away from one of blame between veterinary and human healthcare.
“We all need to work together. The risk of antibiotic resistance is a medical, veterinary, environmental, food and business challenge we all share. We are now working far more closely with colleagues in other disciplines which is positive and will help to deliver further progress,” said the UFU president.
The plan has been welcomed by vets. BVA Northern Ireland Branch President Aurelie Moralis said: “We are pleased that Northern Ireland’s new five-year action plan on antimicrobial resistance identifies a need for collaborative, cross-sector working as crucial to tackling this serious global threat. BVA’s updated position on AMR, released last week, similarly calls for a One Health approach without a culture of blame as key to preserving these vital medicines for humans and animals.
“We welcome the action plan’s emphasis on preventive measures and a commitment to supporting the development of innovative therapies and strengthening the links between research, policy and professional practice.
“BVA is committed to providing continued leadership on the issue. Vets in government and private practice in Northern Ireland have already made huge strides in stewarding responsible antimicrobial use. We now look forward to seeing all government departments embedding this One Health approach, and working in partnership with stakeholders in industry and the veterinary profession to further achieve the goals laid down in this five-year vision.”
BVA’s updated position on responsible antimicrobial use in food producing animals consolidates and expands upon its existing antimicrobial resistance policies. It proposes 15 overarching recommendations on responsible antimicrobial stewardship for vets, farmers and government. These recommendations come amid an increasing global push for One Health working to protect antimicrobials for the sake of animal and human health, reflected both in the UK government’s 20-year vision and new five-year national action plan and the recent UN Interagency Coordinating Group report.