Progress by the UK poultry sector in reducing antibiotic use and sharing best practice among producers was described by Reg Smith, agriculture director for chicken processor Faccenda Foods and chairman of the British Poultry Council's (BPC's) Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme, at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) board meeting in July.
In the UK, the poultry sector is far ahead of other meat sectors in reducing the use of antibiotics, experts at the meeting claimed.
However, they added that reducing antibiotics in other species – such as pigs, cattle and sheep – was likely to prove much more difficult than in poultry.
"[What the BPC has done] is an example for others to follow," said board member, pig farmer and former British Pig Executive chairman Stewart Houston.
"All sectors have a plan now. I like to think the lessons learnt from [poultry] can help accelerate the process."
The news emerged as the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has risen around the globe.
While poultry processors in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and France have been active in reducing their use, Smith expressed concern about the growth of antibiotic use in the Far East.
"The more people get an interest in this [the more it] will drive a greater speed of results," said Smith.
But he feared that it could already be too late to prevent a crisis with AMR.
‘Too late on the issue’
"I personally think we are too late on the issue because the levels of consumption of antibiotics in India and China," he added. "What we do in the UK won't scratch the surface."
Smith described how poultry producers had stopped using critically important antibiotics (CIAs) and the prophylactic use of antibiotics, where birds arriving on farms are given bulk preventative treatment.
While "therapeutic use" was still used when animals became sick, Smith said the industry was looking at alternative therapies, such as "nutritional support", to reduce their use here too.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has released a report highlighting the achievements of Denmark's pig meat industry in reducing antibiotic use by more than one-fifth since 2009.
The Danish parliament has agreed a plan to reduce antibiotic use by a further 15% between 2015 and 2018, with new threshold levels for antibiotic use and a more targeted focus on the use of CIAs.