Fewer antibiotics used in layers

Published on : 2 Feb 2022

A total of 3.1 tonnes of antibiotic active ingredient was used by the laying hen industry in 2020

Antibiotics use on layer flocks has fallen, according to the latest report by the Government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

A total of 3.1 tonnes of antibiotic active ingredient was used by the laying hen industry in 2020. This represents 0.47 actual bird days treated/100 bird days at risk (percentage bird days), a decrease of 0.21 (31 per cent) and 0.19 (29 per cent) since 2019 and 2016 respectively and below the sector target of one per cent, statistics show in the UK Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance Report (UK-VARSS 2020), which was published recently.

The previous year the use of antibiotics had increased slightly in the egg industry. In its annual veterinary antimicrobial resistance and sales surveillance report for 2019,
the VMD reported that 4.8 tonnes of antibiotic active ingredient was used by
the laying hen industry during the 12-month period. This was an increase of 0.13 and 0.02 since 2018 and 2016 respectively, although this was below the one per cent target set for the layer sector.

The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) said at the time that the slight increase in 2019 was the result of a higher incidence of enteritis. The BEIC said it was looking into the reason for this. However, it said that the industry was still achieving its aim despite this small rise.

The collection of antibiotic usage data for the laying hen industry is organised by the BEIC. All egg producers, pullet rearers and breeding companies are required to report any use of an antibiotic to their subscriber. This is then reported to the BEIC on a quarterly basis. The BEIC collated aggregate annual antibiotic pack level data and provided it to the VMD, who carried out the calculations and validation of the usage by active ingredient using ESVAC methodology. Denominator data is available from monthly records of the total number of birds in the scheme, averaged over the year. The data published in the VMD report as ‘actual daily bird days/100 bird days at risk’ represents the average number of days treatment administered per chicken over a 100-day period.

Included in the UK-VARSS 2020 report was a statement by the BEIC. It read, “The antibiotic usage data from members of the British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) Lion Scheme for 2020 continues to be below the one per cent bird days, and no HP-CIAs were used for the fourth consecutive year. In 2020, this was collected through an online portal for the first time, which has facilitated the analysis of the data and improved feedback to subscribers, producers, and vets. It has also made it possible to share data on reasons for medication with prescribing veterinarians.”

The BEIC said that, in the laying hen sector, there continued to be a focus on disease prevention, including widespread vaccination programmes. It was also a requirement for all farms to have a written biosecurity and veterinary health plan and, in addition, the Lion Training Passport provided a common training standard on key topics, including welfare, biosecurity and medicine usage.

“From January 2021 the Lion Training Passport, which includes medicine training, has been a required standard for all farms. There are currently some significant structural changes of the industry with a move away from enriched colony cage production for retail supply towards ‘barn’ production. While this will create challenges, we are confident that, through a continued focus on disease prevention and antibiotic stewardship, we will remain below our on-going target of keeping below one per cent bird days, and 0.05 per cent bird days for HP-CIAs.”

Overall, sales of veterinary antibiotics for use in food-producing animals, adjusted for animal population, were 30.1 mg/kg; a 0.3 mg/kg (one per cent) decrease since 2019 and a 32.2 mg/kg (52 per cent) decrease since 2014.

In a foreword to the VMD report, Dr Kitty Healey, head of surveillance division and head of antimicrobial resistance, said, “Following on from last year, this year’s report shows that the reductions in antibiotic use achieved in previous years have been held, with many sectors holding level or seeing modest reductions. This in itself is an achievement given the gains already made, and while a continuing national downward trend for antibiotic consumption is still necessary, it is likely to be more gradual than in recent years.

“The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance targets task force report released a year ago shows that the UK agriculture sectors remain focused on the road ahead. As they outline in their report, different sectors’ new ambitions fall broadly into three categories: 1) maintaining sizeable reductions already secured; 2) forging ahead with further significant reductions; and 3), for those who have further to go in their antimicrobial usage journey, understanding usage in their sectors.

“It is clear over the course of the VARSS reports since the first one published in 2014 (presenting data from 2013), that data on antibiotic sales and use are powerful tools for understanding patterns of antibiotic prescribing and on-farm use at every level - from providing prescribing pattern insight to the farmer and their vet, to describing sectoral and national trends - and galvanising action.”

RUMA's targets task force was first announced in May 2016 following publication of the O'Neill report into drug resistant infections.

The report was commissioned by then Prime Minister David Cameron, following warnings that growing resistance to antibiotics posed a threat to human health. The review was carried out under the chairmanship of economist Jim O’Neill, the former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. And it warned that farmers needed to reduce or cut the use of antibiotics.

When the review team produced its report, it recommended that antibiotic use in agriculture should be reduced and, in some cases, banned completely. “I find it staggering that in many countries, most of the consumption of antibiotics is in animals rather than humans,” said Jim O’Neill at the time.