Broilers in shed© Tim Scrivener

Ionophore-based anticoccidials must not be allowed to get dragged into the debate about antibiotic resistance, a leading pharmaceutical company has warned.

Nigel Underwood, Elanco Animal Health’s market access manager, told the Pig & Poultry Fair there was a danger they could be unnecessarily caught up in pressure to reduce use of antibiotics in farming.

“We have a job to do as Elanco, as an industry, to protect the use of ionophores and keep them out of the argument.”

See also: How antibiotics and poultry gut health interact

Anticoccidials had a vital role to play in maintaining intestinal integrity, for good health and bird welfare, he said.

To win the argument, it was important to avoid the potential confusion between anti-microbial resistance and antibiotic resistance.

“Yes, ionophores are antimicrobials, because they treat coccidiosis. But they are not therapeutic antibiotics.

“Structurally and pharmacologically, they are totally unrelated to any therapeutic antibiotics used in human or animal medicine.”

Ionophores had already come under public scrutiny in the US and Norway, although in Norway it was “for reasons totally unrelated to their use”, he said.

“At the moment, if you pull them out the consequences could be pretty big. That’s what we are seeing in Norway. Those birds up there are now going down with coccidiosis, which is a disease they haven’t seen in Norway for a number of years.

“Whenever you bring animals together in close proximity, coccidiosis is a challenge that will not go away.

“It is on the agenda, and that’s where we need to work with the food chain, stakeholders and policymakers, and separate it out from antibiotic resistance.”

Another danger was EU plans to move ionophores from feed additive legislation to the vet medicines legislation, which could make them “veterinarian only” products on prescription. 

“The big issue with that is that we would then fall under the medicated feed regulations and we are 99.9% certain that we will lose the ability to medicate preventatively. And therefore ionophores would not be able to be used for coccidiosis control.

“If we lost the use of ionophores it would compromise intestinal integrity, and would probably see an increase in use of shared class therapeutic antibiotics in the short term, which is the very thing we’re trying to move away from.”