Man holds a syringe© FLPA/REX/Shutterstock

Milk producers who are members of the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group (TSDG) will be required to meet new guidelines on the use of antimicrobials from this month.

The retailer is introducing new protocols to discourage farmers and their vets from using critically important antimicrobials (CIAs) unless there is clear evidence they are justified.

CIAs are those antibiotics deemed to be critically important for use in human medicine, such as fluoroquinolones and modern cephalosporins.

See also: Stewardship scheme could cut antimicrobial use

The farming industry has committed to reduce its use of antibiotics, in particular CIAs, in response to global concern about growing resistance to antimicrobials used in human medicine.

Culture and sensitivity

Rob Smith, professor of veterinary science at the University of Liverpool, who advises Tesco on antimicrobial issues, said there was a “societal expectation” that the farming industry continued to push forward its agenda for good antimicrobial stewardship.

The new guidelines would still allow vets to prescribe a CIA, but culture and sensitivity tests would be required to see if the organism would respond to other treatments.

If these tests showed less-critical products could be used, farmers would be expected to switch to another product.

“In the farm protocol, the first line of defence should not be a critically important product. If it is, there will need to be evidence that it is required.”

Prof Smith said in instances where farmers found they did need to use a CIA, then it probably pointed to a problem that needed preventing in the first place.

This might involve the farmer working with their vet to look at whether vaccination, changes to transition cow management or building design could help avoid the need for treatment, he said.

Best practice

A Tesco spokesperson said: “Antimicrobial resistance is a critically important issue and the whole industry must work together in order to tackle it.

“We’re working with farmers from our Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group to promote best practice and help ensure antibiotics are used appropriately.”

TSDG farmers will be required to report antibiotics use on a quarterly basis and will be audited via an annual inspection.

Tesco is not the first company in the dairy supply chain to tighten up its rules on the use of antimicrobials.

In 2015, milk processor Arla introduced a requirement for all its suppliers to discuss antibiotics use with their vet and to make a move towards selective dry cow therapy.

Figures published in November 2016 showed there had been a 10% reduction in sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals during 2015 as a result of industry efforts to curb their use.