Nearly a billion birds are reared for food every year, providing half the meat that the country eats. Celebrating our world-leading bird health and welfare standards is at the heart of British poultry meat production. Our drive for excellence in bird health and welfare has been delivering responsible use of antibiotics and safeguarding their efficacy across the supply chain.

Since 2011, we’ve been ensuring that antibiotic therapies are used ‘only when necessary’, to protect the health and welfare of the birds under our care, and under the supervision of a veterinarian. We’ve successfully reduced our antibiotic use by 82% in the last six years and have stopped all preventative treatments as well as the use of colistin. The highest priority antibiotics that are critically important for humans are used only as a ‘last resort’.

We’ve led the way in improving the sector’s understanding of its use of antibiotics and facilitated sharing of best practice on responsible use of antibiotics with other livestock sectors in the UK and across the world. By sharing learnings and success stories, British poultry meat farmers openly communicate their actions and share best practice in a pre-competitive way.

Time to bring clarity to a complex subject

The recent media coverage on the use of ionophore coccidiostats in our sector shows lack of clarity around their classification and use. We would like to use this opportunity to bring clarity to a complex subject and explain why poultry meat farmers use ionophores (antiparasitics).

What are ionophores?

Ionophores are animal-only antimicrobials that are not classified as veterinary medicinal products and their usage is not linked to reduction in antibiotics. They are classed as feed additives by the Government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

The World Health Organisation, the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE), and the European Surveillance Programme of Veterinary Antibiotics have confirmed that ionophores have no impact to human health. The European Food Safety Agency has also scrutinised the use of ionophores and published opinions have deemed them safe to be used as a feed additive with no risk to humans.

Why are they used?

The very way pet owners proactively treat their dogs and cats with wormers to control worms, poultry meat farmers use ionophores to control Coccidiosis (an intestinal parasitic disease) in their birds to alleviate pain and suffering.

Ionophores are used to control coccidiosis, maintain intestinal integrity, avoid pain and suffering and help deliver good bird health and welfare. If coccidiosis is not controlled, the parasite can cause enteritis in birds leading to intestinal inflammation, reduced absorptive capacity, increased podo-dermatitis, increased mortality and could require the use of medically important antibiotics.

Coccidiosis, is an intestinal parasitic disease, that is extremely common in all poultry worldwide regardless of the production system, including indoor-reared, free-range, and organic.

Trust and transparency

As a sector, we are committed to instilling a trustworthy culture, where we continuously evolve, keep up with science and innovation and nurture the confidence that our consumers have in our food. Our ongoing collaboration with Defra, FSA and the VMD ensures that all data measuring bird health, welfare and food safety is in the public domain, so it can be scrutinised and challenged.

We stand committed to upholding UK’s position at the forefront of international efforts to keep antibiotics effective for future generations. Through more coordinated action between poultry meat farmers, veterinarians, producers as well as policy makers at local, regional, national and global levels, we will continue preserving the efficacy of our antibiotics and contribute to tackling AMR.