Businesses like Westfield Farms have role to play in fighting antimicrobial resistance
2019 provided a major boost for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs as the Veterinary Medicines Directorate confirmed in October that sales of antibiotics used in food-producing animals had reduced by 53 per cent between 2014 and 2018.
The threat of antimicrobial resistance [AMR] is a well-documented challenge of these times, and swift reduction in antibiotic usage is one of many efforts to tackle the issue, in order to render it less likely that harmful bacteria is exposed to antibiotics and can, therefore, develop resistance to them.
The decline in antibiotic usage is largely down to a commitment from the UK’s food, farming and veterinary sectors to focus on disease control and prevention, and the extent of the falling numbers was confirmed in the annual Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance Sales and Surveillance [VARSS] report published at the time.
Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s chief veterinary officer, said: “A 53 per cent reduction in sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals in just four years is a testament to the improvements industry and the veterinary profession have made in antibiotic stewardship, training and disease control.
“This is a great example of how real change can be achieved when Government and industry work together including through initiatives such as the Targets Task Force chaired by the Responsible Use Of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance [RUMA].
“The focus on infection prevention and control is key to reducing the need to treat with antibiotics and maintaining the UK’s world-leading standards in protecting animal health and biosecurity.”
As part of the measure, another sector of the livestock management industry that has been encouraged to reduce its usage of antibiotics is the game breeding industry. One business operating in the sector, Westfield Farms, has not only risen to the challenge but also used its innovative streak to do so.
The North Yorkshire game breeder produces pheasant, red leg partridge, grey partridge and wild mallard, carrying out three shoots per year as well as running its own game processing plant.
Westfield Farms CEO, Michael Wood, told The Parliamentary Review about how the government approached the game breeding industry to encourage cuts to its antibiotic usage and how his business has set about complying.
Wood said: “The game breeding business, along with all other sectors of livestock management, has recently been encouraged by government to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in their stock.”
Wood’s belief was that the key to disease prevention for his flock was to ensure that the game birds had access to clean drinking water, an issue which had been blighting the sector given that the automatic drinker machines that were on the market and available for feeding game birds were not up to scratch.
Wood said: “It is our belief that clean drinking water is paramount in achieving this. The automatic drinkers available for game, as well as those for the free-range chicken and the outdoor egg industry, have never been adequate.”
In light of this, Wood and Westfield Farms set about developing their own solution.
Wood explained: “It was because of this that we designed a drinker which is easy to clean and can be used from a day old to adulthood. It is called Cleanflo and pleasingly, it is receiving very good reviews. We have recently designed a new nipple drinker, requiring little maintenance, which will tremendously improve the quality of drinking water and further reduce the need for antibiotics.”
It is work such as this behind the scenes in the livestock management industry which has aided disease prevention and culminated in the positive numbers shown in the VARSS report.
In response to the report figures, Lord Gardiner, Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, said: “The magnitude of these continuing reductions in antibiotic sales, including the 68 per cent reduction in sales of the highest priority critically important antibiotics for food producing species over the last four years, demonstrates how seriously our farming sectors take the threat of antibiotic resistance and have risen to the challenge.
“There is, however, more to do as we continue this fight against what is a truly global challenge.”
Indeed, more work remains, but the groundwork of Westfield Farms and other businesses in various sectors of the livestock industry has covered much ground. Their work will no doubt remain integral to maintaining this momentum and continuing to address similar challenges that will arise in the future.