Cookie use on MRCVSonline
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive all cookies.
If you would like to forward this story on to a friend, simply fill in the form below and click send.

Your friend's email:
Your email:
Your name:
 
 
Send Cancel

Industry responds to claims a ‘mountain of drugs’ are used on poultry farms
‘Ionophores have some antibacterial action but they are not classified by the EU or UK authorities as antibiotics.'
Countryfile programme on ionophore use sparks controversy 

Vets and farming organisations have said they are disappointed by a BBC Countryfile programme, which claimed there is “a hidden mountain of antimicrobial drugs still being used on many of the UK’s chicken farms”.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) said the statement is “speculative and shows a lack of clarity around the classification and use of ionophores”.

Journalist Tom Heap said campaigners are claiming that ionophores, which are added to chicken feed to prevent coccidiosis, could pose a threat to human health and the environment.

“Some countries, including the USA, are in no doubt that these drugs are antibiotics,” he added. “But the EU, and so the UK, has classed them simply as feed additives. That means they aren’t included in the industry’s seemingly impressive figures on antibiotic use. So, while the use of antibiotics on that AMR hitlist has gone down to 14 tonnes, the use of ionophores has gone up by to a staggering 280 tonnes a year.”

During the programme, Cóilín Nunan of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics claimed ionophores can leave residues in food and are “potentially toxic antibiotics” that could harm the consumer and increase resistance to antibiotics used in humans. In addition, he said most ionophores are excreted in chicken droppings and could be spread in the environment in the form of manure.

Response from the industry
The claims have prompted a number of vets and organisations to issue clarifications.

Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s chief vet, said on Twitter: ‘Using and talking about evidence correctly is important. Ionophores are not antibiotics.’

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) said the ‘misrepresentation’ of ionophore coccidiostats in the programme was ‘disappointing’.

According to a statement from the group: ‘Ionophores have some antibacterial action but they are not classified by the EU or UK authorities as antibiotics, and there is no evidence they create any cross-resistance issues with gram negative bacteria such as E coli or zoonotic pathogens such as campylobacter or salmonella.’

Commenting after the programme, the British Poultry Council said it is important to “steer clear of speculations when talking about such an important subject”. The World Health Organisation, World Animal Health Organisation (OIE), and the European Surveillance Programme of Veterinary Antibiotics have confirmed that ionophores do not have an impact on human health.

The council also pointed out that there are strict regulations surrounding withdrawal periods which prevent antibiotic residues in meat. Furthermore, if coccidiosis is not controlled, it could lead to poor health and welfare in birds, necessitating the use of medically important antibiotics.

Responding to the comments, a BBC spokesperson said: The BBC’s Countryfile programme accurately reflected that ionophore coccidiostats are regularly used by the broiler industry in feed to prevent coccidiosis in poultry.

‘In the film, the British Poultry Council acknowledged that ionophores are antibiotics but stated that they are not classed as such by the EU or UK authorities. The programme accurately reflected campaigners’ concerns that ionophores may increase resistance to other antibiotics and that residues could be left in food and passed into the environment through the spreading of chicken manure as fertilizer.’

Become a member or log in to add this story to your CPD history

Dogs Trust announces winners of vet student awards

News Story 1
 Cambridge vet student James Jewkes has been awarded first place in the annual Dogs Trust EMS Awards, for his paper on the threat of exotic infectious diseases in rehoming centres. James will now go on a two-week placement at the WVS International Training Centre in South India.

Each year the awards allow vet students to gain hands-on experience during work placements at 13 of the charity’s rehoming centres, then submit reports on a relevant subject.  

Click here for more...
News Shorts
Former RCVS president to chair new Horse Welfare Board

Former RCVS president Barry Johnson has been appointed as the independent chair of a new Horse Welfare Board. Barry, who is also past chairman of World Horse Welfare, was selected by an industry panel including the British Horseracing Authority, the Racecourse Association and The Horsemen’s Group.

The welfare board aims to develop a new welfare strategy covering the whole racing industry. Mr Johnson said: “I’m very pleased to have been asked by racing to take on this role and by the sport’s commitment to continuous improvement in the welfare of racehorses."