Responsible antibiotic use in broiler production is a One Health approach protecting Animal, Human and Environmental Health
This article reviews some of the key steps made to reduce medically important antibiotic usage in poultry production in the UK, writes Daniel Parker, EBVS® European Specialist in Poultry Veterinary Science.

In 2011, the British Poultry Council (BPC) - the representative body of the poultry meat producers in the UK - established its antibiotic stewardship group. The group’s initial remit was to collect antibiotic usage data from the member organisations, prior to this initiative only antibiotic sales data which did not accurately detail the usage in the poultry meat sector was available in the public domain. The stewardship group also held meetings to share best practice and to educate the sector on the rapidly developing science on antimicrobial resistance.

The BPC members agreed that the antibiotic stewardship group should be precompetitive with companies sharing data and best practice in a non competitive way for the greater benefit of the sector as a whole. The success of the stewardship group and its progress has benefited from this precompetitive approach.

Responsible antibiotic use is NOT antibiotic free, it is minimising the use of all antibiotic classes and avoiding the use of those classes of antibiotics that are of critical importance to human health. It is important that antibiotics are used in the case of bacterial illness in birds to ensure their health and welfare is not compromised.

To grow broiler chickens with minimal antibiotic use you need a quality day-old chick, quality feed and ensure that the birds are housed in a good environment. Robust hygiene and biosecurity programs are required to prevent pathogen entry.

In the UK great strides were made in the reduction of antibiotic use with a change in source of broiler house heating from direct heating systems (which inherently introduce water and carbon dioxide into the house as a bi-product of heat product) to indirect hot water heating sources (hot water heating). This change resulted in drier housing environment and litter which along with robust in feed coccidostat programs improved the management of coccidiosis, an important prerequisite to ensure good intestinal integrity in broilers.

Good intestinal integrity results in healthier, happier and more productive broilers. Another area that the UK poultry industry has focused on is water quality, improving intercrop cleaning of water systems and reducing bacterial loading by the use of water sanitisers. Finally the industry has refocused on the fine details of stockmanship, this can be aided with the use of modern innovation e.g. in-house cameras and sensors .

Great strides can be made in the reduction of medically important antibiotic use in modern broiler production but it requires determination by the producers to make the management and mindset changes. However, antibiotic free is not a sustainable option, we need to ensure we retain the option to treat birds with appropriate antibiotics if they are sick to preserve their health and welfare.

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