Antibiotic reduction plans must ‘degenerate into hard work’

With antibiotics, we must remember that it’s about responsible use – not just reducing use, writes Mandy Nevel, from the Royal Veterinary College and currently on a six-month secondment to AHDB Pork.

Antibiotics are vital tools that enable vets to treat and safeguard the welfare of animals committed to their care. In the UK, all vets admitted to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons register must swear an oath:

“I PROMISE AND SOLEMNLY DECLARE that I will pursue the work of my profession with integrity and accept my responsibilities to the public, my clients, the profession and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and that, ABOVE ALL, my constant endeavour will be to ensure the health and welfare of animals committed to my care.”

In today’s world, antibiotics are still necessary to achieve this. Will they be necessary in 100 years? Or will we have better technologies that offer better solutions to health problems?

On a recent tour of farms and technology companies in the UK and the Netherlands, I was amazed to see some of the investment that has been made in new technologies to help reduce antibiotic use.

We witnessed a range of innovations, from probiotics for day-old chicks to sophisticated air systems for pig housing – not to mention the research into nutrition and alternatives to antibiotics.

I was really quite staggered by the commitment shown by the companies involved. This was both in research and at farm level and there was a real buzz with the progress that has been made. I finished the tour with real optimism that in the UK we have some truly great farms and that there are real opportunities to improve the health and welfare of our animals.

It brings to mind the famous quote from US businessman Peter Drucker: “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work”.

The UK pig sector targets for antibiotic use were announced on October 27 at the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) conference and will only be achieved with hard work and determination – there is no quick fix. The reductions that have already been seen in the pig industry are a great start, but there is more we need to do. The targets are ambitious and the plans should be, too.

However, plans should always be discussed and agreed with your vet and put in place to ensure the welfare of your pigs is not compromised. The phrase ‘as little as possible, but as much as necessary’ is apt and it will demand hard work from individual units and the industry as a whole to achieve this balance.

Within research and academia we need to seek alternative ways of controlling disease. Earlier detection or preventative methods are needed and it’s up to all of us to keep looking for solutions.

If you want to share your experiences of trying to refine or reduce antibiotics on your unit, I’d like to hear from you – email me on Mandy.nevel@ahdb.org.uk and tell me what worked well for you and what didn’t.

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