Antibiotic use by gamebird rearers halved in voluntary campaign

The National Gamekeepers Organisation

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) together with other organisations involved in shooting and gamebird management have welcomed the release of the latest figures showing that antibiotic use in UK gamebirds has fallen by 51% in two years, with medication in gamebird feed slashed by 70%.

The figures released by the Game Farmers’ Association (GFA) were calculated in collaboration with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and based on all prescriptions written by gamebird vets, both for in-feed medication and treatments in the birds’ water.

This voluntary campaign has seen antibiotic use halved since it was rolled out in 2016 and the results have been praised by VMD’s Chief Executive, Professor Peter Borriello, who said, “Reducing antibiotic use in gamebirds by a further 24% in 2018 and 51% over the last two years in an impressive achievement. The Game Farmers Association should be congratulated for mobilising the industry as should the game farmers, gamekeepers and their vets for their commitment in bringing down antibiotic use. We encourage everyone to continue this good work.”

These results come at a time when all livestock sectors have been asked by government to reduce their use of antibiotics in the face of global concerns about antimicrobial resistance – the evolution of bugs that will not respond to treatment with antibiotics.

Detailed analysis of the 2018 results show that in feed use fell by 35% this year, whilst use of AB in soluble treatments fell by 10%. The difference reflects a welcome focus on treating actual disease outbreaks rather than feeding medicated rations ‘just in case’. There was also a need to treat some late disease outbreaks associated with the excessively hot summer of 2018.

NGO Vice-Chairman Geoff Garrod, who buys in poults and also rears on day-olds in Essex said, “Reducing antibiotics is good, not just because we need to play our part in the worldwide campaign to do so but because it also makes us more alert to potential disease problems and avoiding trouble in the first place. If you know you can’t fall back on antibiotics, you just have to make sure you are doing the job properly.”

Liam Bell, NGO Chairman, likened the situation to the loss of Emtryl in the 1990’s, “Initially everyone thought it would be a disaster and the end of shooting. In fact we found ways to rear and release without it and the birds were better as a result. We have to think of antibiotic reduction as an opportunity and not a threat. We now need everyone to see that and to follow the many keepers who have already taken the lead to keep driving down the use of antibiotics.”

The lessons learned from this year’s gamebird rearing season will be collated during November at a meeting of specialist vets and representatives of the game feed trade, hosted by the Game Farmers’ Association. Advice arising from that meeting will be provided free of charge to all game rearers in pursuit of further antibiotic reductions next year.

These reductions were also welcomed by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), the Countryside Alliance (CA), the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association.

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