Issued on behalf of:
The Game Farmers’ Association GFA)
Countryside Alliance (CA)
Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT)
National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO)
Organisations representing the gamebird rearing sector have called for a big push to further reduce the use of antibiotics in 2020, despite having already almost halved use overall since 2016.
The Game Farmers Association (GFA), Countryside Alliance (CA), National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) all want to see a continuing decline in antibiotic treatments used in the rearing of pheasants and partridges, in line with action currently being taken across all farm animal sectors in the UK.
Their renewed call comes in response to figures for 2019 antibiotic usage calculated from prescriptions written by gamebird vets and collated by the GFA in collaboration with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). These show a small increase of 7% in 2019, associated with very wet weather during the rearing season and an unprecedented need to treat sick birds hit by the very challenging disease Mycoplasma.
In the previous two years, the gamebird sector had succeeded in reducing antibiotic use by 51%, with antibiotics incorporated in gamebird feed slashed by 70%. The organisations say they want to see a return to reductions in 2020. Additional plans are already underway to improve game rearing systems and biosecurity, so that fewer birds become sick and need treatment.
A spokesman for the GFA said, "2019 was a tough year for game rearers. More birds than usual succumbed to sickness - associated in part with terrible weather conditions – and as a result vets prescribed more soluble antibiotics than in the year before, much of it to treat bad outbreaks of Mycoplasma. Antibiotic incorporated in compounded feeds fell yet again, however, for the fourth year in a row.”
The GFA is meeting with gamebird vets, the VMD and Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) before the 2020 rearing season gets underway to put in place further reduction targets and other measures to bring antibiotic use down.
Professor Peter Borriello, Chief Executive Officer of the VMD, said: “It is encouraging to see in-feed antibiotic use continue to fall in the gamebird industry, although the increase in in-water and overall antibiotic use is disappointing. However, the openness of the gamebird industry to collect and publish its usage data is to be applauded. Given the fact that, even with the 2019 increase, antibiotic use has still reduced by 49% since 2016, we are confident that game farmers, gamekeepers and their vets will investigate the reasons for last year’s increase, develop a plan of action and continue to focus on reducing the need to use antibiotics through improvements in husbandry, biosecurity and disease prevention.”
The gamebird sector has already made changes that are expected to contribute to further falls in antibiotic use. A new Game Farm Audit to ensure high standards, including disease prevention, has recently been launched by the British Game Alliance. Other industry bodies, including the GFA, are funding urgent research into gamebird diseases, including Mycoplasma.
A spokesman for the gamebird organisations said that all gamebird rearers needed to work with their vets towards further antibiotic reductions. “Much has been achieved in only three years and with new initiatives underway and growing investment in rearing equipment, we expect further reductions to follow.”
Chris Lloyd, secretary general for RUMA, said “The gamebird sector is to be congratulated for its progress to date, which has seen not just significant reductions in antibiotic use but positive changes in practice as well.
“What the sector is now experiencing is similar to that seen in other farm animal sectors, where the easier wins have been had and a change of approach is needed to gain the harder reductions.
“However, the united approach, transparency and accountability of sector leaders shows there is determination to overcome these inevitable setbacks. Their continued participation in the Targets Task Force and commitment to work with others to set further reduction targets post-2020 illustrate that the sector is determined to continue making progress.”
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Notes to editors
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – providing research-led conservation for a thriving countryside. The GWCT is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife since the 1930s. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats. We employ 22 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse.
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