The Food Industry Initiative on Antimicrobials (FIIA)

News

7 May 2024

New ‘white paper’ aims to boost confidence around farm antibiotic data

Improving how the food and farming industry uses farm antibiotic data could unlock huge opportunities for UK farmers, including increased market access, better disease prevention and improved sustainability. 

——> Download the full report and the simple summary.

This is the vision set out in a new ‘white paper’ published today (7 May) by the Vet Schools Council (VSC) and the Food Industry Initiative on Antimicrobials (FIIA).

The paper examines why there are barriers to collecting and sharing data on where and when different antibiotics are used, and asks how this can be changed in order to safeguard farmers’ interests around data while reducing the spread of antibiotic resistance.

The report reaches three conclusions about what is needed: appropriate protocols on data use that can be easily observed by all parties; a better understanding of the barriers to improved use of data – by sector and supply chain; and agreement on how to publish data in the safest and fairest way.

James Wood, infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge’s vet school, chairs the VSC’s antimicrobial resistance sub-group (VSC-AMR). He says the opportunities presented by better antibiotic data remain largely unrecognised within UK food and farming.

“Antibiotic resistance is already a ‘slow-moving’ pandemic fuelled by inappropriate or unnecessary use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine,” says Professor Wood.

“The UK has led globally in voluntary reductions of antibiotic use on farms, halving sales over the past decade to among the lowest in Europe. There is so much more that can be done using data, however – such as modelling evolving disease patterns and resistance so we can anticipate and proactively manage infection in animals.”

Kristen Reyher, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Population Health at the University of Bristol, who is a member of VSC-AMR and has worked closely with FIIA, says the aims could be even more ambitious.

“Data on antibiotic use and prescriptions in all sectors could include details of the conditions being targeted and the effectiveness of the treatment,” she explains.

“This could then be combined with dis­ease and resistance surveillance data to help identify patterns. We have a chance to be world-leading in this area, safeguarding these valuable medicines for where they will be most needed – but only if we can work together using data.”  

Gavin Morris, Animal Welfare Manager for meat processor Dunbia and President of the Veterinary Public Health Association, led the contribution to the report from the FIIA. He says part of the report focuses on the lack of national antibiotic data in the dairy, beef and sheep sectors, and examines the implications.

“Until we know what antibiotics UK dairy, beef and sheep farming are using at a national level – as we do in other sectors – we can’t prove the efforts going into antibiotic stewardship. This becomes especially important when considering our competitors in Europe and around the world, where this type of data collection is now being mandated nationally,” he says.

“The good news is we do now have ‘Medicine Hub’, an online platform managed by levy board AHDB on behalf of the farming industry to collate cattle and sheep antibiotic usage data from a variety of sources. It works alongside systems in each of the devolved nations, such as Welsh Lamb & Beef Producers’ antimicrobial use calculator.

“However, to be fully engaged, farmers and vets need to understand the benefits of collating data in the first place.”

Dr Morris believes that many of the barriers to collaborating and making better use of data can be overcome if the shared benefits are recognised.

“We know some farmers are concerned they will be judged or penalised if they share information on antibiotic treatments. FIIA members in food processing and retail recognise this, and have agreed a code of conduct on data access and use. Despite this, we need to do more to build confidence – which is why this white paper is so important.”

The collaboration between VSC-AMR and FIIA on the paper started two years ago after a report from a campaign group raised concerns from both parties about how the group had mispresented data on antibiotic use in different supply chains. The two organisations decided to collaborate on a piece of work identifying what good data management looked like and could offer the industry – and this is the result.

The full report is available to download here, with a summary version available here. The report is also available on the Vet Schools Council website www.vetschoolscouncil.ac.uk.

1 November 2023

Medicine Hub data hailed as ‘significant milestone’

The first data to be published from the AHDB-developed and hosted Medicine Hub for cattle and sheep has been warmly welcomed by FIIA.

The average on-farm antibiotic use figures, published today (1 November) in the latest RUMA Targets Task Force report, are from modest samples covering 28% of dairy cows, 9% of sheep and around 6% of beef production in the UK. Nonetheless, they represent a significant milestone towards evidencing responsible antibiotic stewardship in these sectors, says FIIA. 

Sophie Throup, head of agriculture at Morrisons and member of FIIA’s steering group, explains that with a 59% reduction in sales of antibiotics to treat UK farm animals over the past eight years, the UK already has a good story to tell.

“Being able to evidence specific use in the cattle and sheep sectors through Medicine Hub data is a really meaningful step forward, and a testament to the many positive steps taken by farmers and vets to reduce actual antibiotic use,” she says.

“The more data we have on the Hub, the nearer we get to having a representative picture of use in UK dairy, beef and sheep production, levelling us up with other UK livestock sectors and other countries who are already producing comparative figures.

“I hope farmers, vets and data holders will increasingly see benefits from uploading data safely and confidentially to the Hub. Not only will this contribute towards the national picture, but they should ultimately be able to use baseline information from the Hub to keep improving,” adds Sophie.

Dean Holroyd, technical director at ABP and fellow FIIA steering group member, says a considerable collaborative effort has underpinned the publication of Medicine Hub data this year.

“Collating records in the cattle and sheep sectors has proved far more challenging than in others such as pigs and poultry, which have been reporting national-level data for several years now,” he says.

“This is down to the sheer number of dairy, beef and sheep farms – almost 100,000 – as well as complex supply chains, so there’s been a lot of effort to identify and upload data. A large number of farmers and vets are to be commended for the huge efforts they’ve made to get their own and others’ data on the Hub.”

Tesco’s head of sustainable agriculture Natalie Smith, who also sits on FIIA’s steering group, explains she’s seen this effort first hand, with those involved with Tesco’s Sustainable Farming Groups all encouraged to upload their figures.

“There’s been tremendous engagement from bulk data holders, such as Welsh Lamb & Beef Producers and Kingshay, which have contributed a significant amount of data from their own antibiotic monitoring initiatives.

“The team at AHDB should be acknowledged for their hard work to clean and upload data, improve the Hub interface, and communicate the need for this project to the wider industry,” says Natalie.

The figures published from the Medicine Hub cover antibiotic use in 2022, and exceed the target of 2,000 records per sector. The target doubles to 4,000 records for each sector in 2023, and 8,000 records in 2024.

More information is available at www.medicinehub.org.uk.

The latest reports on 2022 antibiotic sales from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate are available here; the RUMA Targets Task Force updates are available at https://www.ruma.org.uk/reports/.  


20 October 2023

FIIA data examined in new research paper

A new study has been published in academic journal Antibiotics, examining data collected by several FIIA retailer members.  

The results of the study, conducted by Ann Bruce and Katherine Adam from University of Edinburgh, suggest that consumers generally have limited knowledge about antibiotic use in agriculture and antimicrobial resistance. While the respondents largely agreed that the benefits of antibiotics outweigh harm, a high level of uncertainty in responses shows the need to persist with efforts to improve stewardship of antibiotics in farming. Access the study here.

 

15 February 2023

FIIA backs Medicine Hub

The FIIA has announced its backing of AHDB’s Medicine Hub. 

FIIA says the Medicine Hub, developed by AHDB, will provide an important role helping the UK cattle and sheep sectors prove their  low use of antibiotics, and ensuring they can compete with EU countries as they mandate national collation of antibiotic data across all species. See the report in The Grocer.

 

28 January 2022

FIIA welcomes new EU rules and confirms alignment

The FIIA welcomes new regulations on veterinary use of antibiotics coming into force in the EU on 28 January 2022, and underlines broad consistency with existing FIIA policies on responsible use of antibiotics in members’ food supply chains.

The European Medicines Agency says the Veterinary Medicinal Products Regulation (Regulation (EU) 2019/6) will modernise existing rules on the authorisation and use of veterinary medicines in the European Union (EU).

One key area in the new EU regulations concerns routine preventative use of veterinary medicines. The FIIA policy on responsible use does not permit routine preventative use of antibiotics within members’ supply chains. Preventative treatments are only acceptable when they are:

i) To treat animals diagnosed at high risk of bacterial disease, and

ii) Prescribed by vets who have direct responsibility for those animals, and

iii) Not used as compensation for poor hygiene or in place of improvements in husbandry which could reduce the need for treatment.

The FIIA policy specifies that any preventative treatments deemed necessary should be administered to individual animals where possible, except in species which cannot be treated individually without stress or harm, or where group treatment is in accordance with veterinary best practice.

FIIA has undertaken to review its policy annually in light of changing evidence and practice, and update as necessary. The UK government is continuing its work on proposed amendments to its Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013 to reflect these discussed changes to regulations in Europe. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate plans to carry out a formal consultation in 2022 on proposed changes, with the revised UK regulations coming into force later in 2022 or early 2023. FIIA will review its policy once further detail on changes in UK regulation are known.

At the moment, all FIIA’s policies and codes cover UK-sourced produce, although some individual retailers may be able to cover some imported products. There is a long-term ambition to widen the policy to all produce in time. The coverage on branded products will vary from member to member as a result.

The UK already has among the lowest sales of antibiotics for the veterinary treatment of farm animals in Europe, driven by voluntary collaborative initiatives across all livestock sectors led by RUMA. Overall sales have halved with sales of the highest priority products falling by almost 80%. Use of antibiotics for growth promotion has been banned in the UK since 2006, and most retailers have written into their policies that they do not support products of (therefore imported) animal origin where growth promoters have been used.

All main farm assurance schemes operating in the UK now require farmers to undertake annual reviews of antibiotic use with their vet, including recommendations for reductions and refinements in use. Red Tractor rules covering 95% of dairy production in the UK and around half of beef and lamb production in England also require at least one person on the farm to have undergone formal medicine handling training.

18 November 2021

Collaborative action is succeeding in antibiotic resistance battle

In response to a call for supermarkets to do more to support responsible use of antibiotics on-farm, the FIIA – which brings together retailers, manufacturers, processors and food service companies – welcomes the remarkable progress the UK has made in farm antibiotic stewardship in recent years. We agree there is more to do in this country, but progress continues, and we aim to eventually apply FIIA policies across all supply chains serving the UK.

However, halving total sales, and cutting use of the most important antibiotics by over three-quarters to comprise less than 0.5% of the total, are significant achievements. Additionally, colistin use in farming all but disappeared in 2020. The UK is now one of the lowest users of antibiotics to treat farm animals in Europe, and levels of resistance found through food surveillance are almost all stabilising or falling as a result.

In terms of our ongoing role in this, we fully support the farmers and vets working in our supply chains. However we also recognise the complex nature of these supply chains and respect the farmer’s ‘ownership’ of their own antibiotic usage data. These commitments are laid out in the policies on this website.

So rather than competing on this issue, we have been working collaboratively. This includes setting out clear rules that build on the European ban on use of antibiotics for growth promotion (in place since 2006) by not permitting any routine preventative use of antibiotics within our supply chains. Our approach also fosters discussion about antibiotic use between farmers and their immediate customers, and supports the collection of national-level antibiotic data to allow accurate benchmarking and improvement.

The biggest challenge in terms of national data remains in the large and complex dairy, beef and sheep sectors, where data collection is taking place but is still to come together to form a national picture.

This is why FIIA is pushing efforts into supporting the new AHDB-developed Medicine Hub (www.medicinehub.org.uk) and is urging cattle and sheep farmers and vets to register as soon as possible to speed the process of confidential national data collation. As these sectors are already known to be relatively low users of antibiotics, this transparency can only improve trust and opportunities for UK dairy, beef and lamb.

Finally, we would like to reiterate that responsible antibiotic use is not necessarily zero use. Animals must be treated for disease when required to safeguard their health and welfare. This is the specialised and skilled job of the farm vet, who controls veterinary antibiotic prescriptions.

As the UK continues to build its track record in responsible antibiotic use, so our members intend to progressively turn their focus to suppliers in other countries, making sure that eventually, common FIIA principles can be applied across all our supply chains serving the UK.

14 October 2021

UK food industry pledges support for new farm antibiotic database

The UK food industry has welcomed a call to action to UK cattle vets to spearhead uptake of a national dataset for farm antibiotic use (see below).

It says it will do all it can to champion this important initiative, announced this week at the British Cattle Veterinary Congress (14-16 October) held in Newport.

The Food Industry Initiative on Antimicrobials (FIIA), which brings together retailers, manufacturers, processors and food service companies to promote and support responsible antibiotic use in livestock farming and aquaculture, says the transparency the new Medicine Hub will bring will further improve trust and opportunities for UK dairy, beef and lamb.

Tesco’s Group Quality Director Sarah Bradbury, who sits on the FIIA steering group, emphasised that UK farms already have an excellent track record on antibiotic stewardship – and cattle and sheep farmers are known to use comparatively small amounts of the medicines.
“The arrival of the Medicine Hub is a real breakthrough. It’s a safe and secure way to collate, report and compare antibiotic information while giving farmers confidence to share data in a confidential way. The initiative will help demonstrate the limited use of antibiotics across dairy, beef and sheep enterprises.”

ABP’s Group Technical and Sustainability Director Dean Holroyd, who also sits on the FIIA steering group, says it’s now important the Medicine Hub gets taken up and used to its full potential so the UK can retain its position among leaders in stewardship of antibiotics in farming globally.

“FIIA’s members will be urging their supply chains to get involved with this initiative, and we are delighted to see cattle vets leading the charge in asking their clients to register on the Medicine Hub,” he says.

“We will be supporting this by encouraging as many dairy, beef and sheep producers in our supply chains to do the same by the end of the year, so data uploading can start in earnest in 2022.”

To find out more about the Medicine Hub and to get registered, please go to www.medicinehub.org.uk

14 October 2021

UK cattle vets to spearhead crucial antibiotic data collection

Cattle vets are being called on to spearhead efforts to populate the new national Medicine Hub with farm antibiotic data.

The call to action, made at the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) Congress this week (14-16 October) in Newport, asks vets to help dairy, beef and sheep clients register on the Medicine Hub before the end of the year so they can confidentially share data with it on farmers’ behalf.

UK farms already have among the lowest use of antibiotics in Europe1. But while pig, poultry and aquaculture sectors capture antibiotic data for over 90 per cent of production, the large and complex dairy, beef and sheep sectors have struggled to evidence responsible use due to lack of this type of national-level data2.

The industry-led Medicine Hub – developed by AHDB – plans to address this. With unprecedented farm-to-fork support3, it offers a safe, secure and independent central repository to collate, report and compare antibiotic data from a variety of sources, including on-farm farm use and datasets from vets and processors.

The Medicine Hub is also developing interfaces to transfer in data collected by the Welsh Lamb & Beef Producers antimicrobial use calculator app4 and the STAMP antimicrobial usage benchmarking tool in Northern Ireland5. In addition to this, Quality Meat Scotland’s commitment to promoting good antibiotic stewardship includes mandatory collation of antibiotic data to contribute to national recording.

Both BCVA and the Sheep Veterinary Society have promoted the Medicine Hub in recent months. Registering farm clients will now be an important first step towards demonstrating the success of a wide range of antibiotic stewardship activities undertaken in these sectors over the past five years.

BCVA board member and cattle vet Rachel Hayton, who chairs the Medicine Hub’s industry liaison group and will be speaking about it at the Congress, says it will take time for the Medicine Hub to fully evolve – but the information it eventually provides will be invaluable for many reasons.

“We need to consider UK producers’ reputation and accountability, and meet new national antibiotic use targets agreed by vets and producers through the RUMA Targets Task Force in November 20206,” she explains.

“We know both vets and farmers have been committed to raising the bar on responsible use of antibiotics – we want them to be able to prove this!”

In addition to meeting national targets, Rachel says UK farmers and vets need to consider EU rule changes, with member countries having to provide information on antibiotic use in cattle from 2023 and sheep from 2026.

“This will apply to Northern Ireland directly, but the other three nations indirectly too as they seek trade deals with the EU.

“Vets, as the prescribers and gatekeepers of antibiotics, have a huge role to play in this, which is why we’re asking cattle vets to step up now and be part of developing this hugely exciting platform. Knowing the whole industry is behind this should give vets and farmers alike a huge boost!”

Rachel adds that some vet and producer groups, especially in the dairy sector, are already collating and comparing data. “Subject to data permissions, we are aiming for these private datasets to be incorporated into the Medicine Hub without duplication on the part of the farmer.

“The Medicine Hub will eventually offer everyone with antibiotic data, whether a single farmer, software company, or consultancy with thousands of records, the chance to benchmark their records against the national dataset.”

To find out more about the Medicine Hub and to get registered, please go to www.medicinehub.org.uk.

[1] European Medicines Agency – European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption (ESVAC)

[2] Veterinary Medicines Directorate – Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance

[3] Industry support for the Medicine Hub has been received from AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board), Anglo Beef Producers UK, Blade Farming, British Cattle Veterinary Association, British Retail Consortium, British Veterinary Association, Cattle Antibiotic Guardian Group, Co-op, Dairy UK, Farm Vet Champions, Food Industry Initiative on Antimicrobials, Map of Ag, National Beef Association, National Sheep Association, Red Tractor, RCVS Knowledge, Ruminant Health and Welfare, RUMA, Sheep Antibiotic Guardian Group, Sheep Veterinary Society and Welsh Lamb and Beef Producers. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate also supports the initiative.

[4] WLBP – https://farmrecords.wlbp.co.uk/

[5] STAMP – www.vetimpress.com/stampni

[6] RUMA – Targets Task Force Report 2020