Food Safety Conference

Antibiotic use cut 71% by halting blanket treatment

By Matt Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

British Poultry Council's Reg Smith said farmers had gone back to basics to cut antibiotic use
British Poultry Council's Reg Smith said farmers had gone back to basics to cut antibiotic use

Related tags Food safety conference Bacteria Clostridium difficile

The UK poultry sector cut its antibiotics use by 71% between 2012 and 2016, by stopping farmers from using antibiotics in a ‘blanket’ treatment.

Farmers “went back to the real basics of managing poultry”​ to combat anti-microbial resistance, said British Poultry Council (BPC) Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme chairman Reg Smith, speaking at the Food Manufacture Group’s Food safety conference on June 22. Smith’s comments came as the BPC revealed the sector had cut its antibiotic use to 23.72t in 2016, while still increasing poultry production by 11%.

One of the key mechanisms for cutting antibiotic use was by stopping prophylactic treatment of chickens – giving chickens antibiotics from birth, to prevent any infection in the future – Smith said.

“Prophylactic treatment is saying ‘I don’t know if there’s a problem, but there might be a problem, so I’m going to treat it anyway’,​” said Smith, who is also agriculture director at Faccenda. “That’s what the poultry industry was doing. As soon as chickens arrived, we put them on antibiotics.

‘Not a single bird’

“Prophylactic was using antibiotics without clear justification that they had a bacterial infection. That, we stopped. We got away from that. Not a single bird goes down the industry prophylactically medicated today.”

Stopping bacterial infection at its source was also key to cutting antibiotic use, Smith said. Farmers had to go back to the basics of poultry rearing, and ask themselves why chickens were becoming infected, as opposed to simply treating their illnesses.

Smith said: “We used to see a problem called nectrotic enteritis – basically a very bad stomach bug for chickens. It would kill the birds within their first 23 to 24 days ​[of life].

“From when the bird was a day old, to about seven days, we didn’t have the temperature right for them. In the first seven days of the bird’s life, the gut system develops. It doesn’t come under pressure until about 22/23 days old when it starts growing fast.

‘What farming has to do to get rid of antibiotics’

“So we solved that problem by doing the actual husbandry in the first seven days of the bird’s life. That’s fundamentally a good example of what farming has to do to get rid of antibiotics.”

The BPC was delighted with the progress the sector had made to cut antibiotics, although there was more work to be done, said its chairman John Reed. Farm management practices were continuously reviewed to ensure sustainable use of antibiotics throughout the supply chain, he added.

Reed said: “Our farmers and veterinarians need antibiotics in their toolbox to treat sick birds – zero use is not an option – and we will protect the health and welfare of our birds.

“We will safeguard the efficacy of antibiotics as part of sustainable food production, and we will continue to feed the nation.”

The Food safety conference, chaired by Professor Steven Walker, director general Campden BRI, was sponsored by: Checkit, Dycem, eurofins, Ishida, Pal International, Westgate Factory Dividers.

Meanwhile, Smith told the Food Standards Agency board meeting in September that he thought antibiotic overuse in China and India meant we were too late to prevent an antimicrobial resistance crisis​.

Poultry sector antibiotic use – at a glance

  • Cut by 71% between 2012 and 2016
  • 23.72t used in 2016
  • Poultry production increased 11%

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