Reducing antibiotic use in agriculture
We are committed to doing the right thing when it comes to sourcing the raw materials for our food. We have a long-standing promise to sustainable sourcing and this is delivered through our Farming for the Future programme, which forms part of Plan A. This sees us working closely with farmers and growers in our supply chain to ensure that our food is produced in a way that makes efficient use of resources, protects the environment and provides animals with the highest standards of welfare.
We’re also steadfast in our desire to continually do things better and ensure that our approach is science-led so that we make the right decisions for the future.
One of the big challenges facing us all in the industry is the growing risk of antimicrobial resistance and the potential impact this could have on human health. This issue is well publicised and the government set up Lord O’Neill’s review back in 2014 to explore the best ways of mitigating these risks. One of the recommendations of this review was that antibiotic use in agriculture needs to be reduced.
As I travel around the country visiting the farms that supply us I get to see first-hand the great effort that goes into ensuring that all of the food we offer is produced to industry-leading standards and that includes stewardship of antibiotic use. This is a complex area as it essential that we continue to deliver leading standards of animal welfare and provide animals with the best treatment should they get ill or injured.
When it comes to antibiotic use we have a well-established policy adhering to EU regulations ensuring that no animals in our supply chain receive antibiotics routinely for growth promotion purposes – they are only ever used for the treatment of injury or for health reasons under veterinary supervision. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t work with our farmers to reduce antibiotic use further.
Over the last twelve months we’ve been refining our antibiotic usage policy in consultation with our suppliers and advisers, taking into account the views of the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and The European Medicines Authority (EMA).
This revised policy is an integral part of our livestock Codes of Practice, which set the standards that all our Select Farm suppliers must adhere to.
Our approach is not only about reducing antibiotic use but involves a framework of 4Rs:
- Record – to understand the pattern of antibiotic use in supply chains
- Replace – look for alternative treatments and husbandry approaches
- Reduce – ensure that antibiotic use is part of a considered on-farm veterinary plan and only used when necessary
- Refine – our approach to evolve our policies in light of new research, product development, etc.
Our aim is to reduce antibiotic use over time in a way that avoids detriment to animal welfare. As part of this, we now record welfare outcome measures across our major livestock supply chains to monitor animal welfare, ensuring that we continue to lead the industry on animal welfare as well as safeguarding the future of antibiotics that are of critical importance to human health.
As part of the government’s commitment to addressing antimicrobial resistance, the Food Standards Agency has been independently testing retail meat samples as part of a Europe-wide review to establish the level of antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) bacteria on raw meat. What these results are showing is that low levels of AMR bacteria are present on meat and that efforts to reduce overall bacterial levels are demonstrating good progress.
The FSA also points out that as long as you handle and cook meat properly – so that pork, poultry and minced beef and lamb are steaming hot throughout, with no pinkness and any juices run clear – then the risk from antimicrobial resistance from all meats is low.
However, the wider issues around antimicrobial resistance and our ability to protect human and animal health is a challenge for us all in the industry. We will continue to work hard to ensure that our farmers are responsible in the way that they use antibiotics whilst delivering the very highest standards of animal welfare performance, just as you’d expect.