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Scottish Sea Farms says it has achieved a first in farmed fish health with no antibiotics used in any of its farming operations during 2020.
It said the news represented an important first for both the company and the Scottish salmon sector.
On its marine farms, the company said no antibiotics had been used now for 10 years – dating back to 2012.
And on its two freshwater hatcheries at Barcaldine and Knock, there has only been ‘minimal use’ in recent years.
The company says it has been proactively working to reduce their use across its operations which has resulted in a ground-breaking first on and offshore.
Ronnie Soutar, head of veterinary services at Scottish Sea Farms, said: ‘We’re very proud to have reached this stage.
‘It is important on a global scale that antibiotic use is minimised and only used when absolutely essential, in recognition of concerns over antimicrobial resistance (AMR).’
AMR is one of the biggest issues facing global health as it is where bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites become resistant to medicines previously used to treat them.
While AMR can occur naturally, over-reliance on antibiotics in human or animal health could be adding to the problem – hence the need for medical and veterinary professionals to reduce their use.
Mr Soutar said: ‘Scottish salmon farming generally has a very low use of antibiotics compared with other livestock sectors and Scottish Sea Farms has consistently had antibiotic usage well below the sector’s target.’
In 2016, RUMA, or the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance, set a goal of 5mg antibiotic active substance for every kilo of salmon produced.
This compared to a target of 25mg per kg for poultry meat (broilers) and 99mg per kg for pigs.
In the four years between 2015 and 2018 inclusive, Scottish Sea Farms said it also averaged well below even the official RUMA standard by using just 3.6 mg per kilo.
In 2019, this dropped to 0.25 mg per kilo, to zero in 2020.
Mr Soutar added: ‘Our use in the freshwater phase of production has been because infections can occur before fish are big enough to be vaccinated.
‘However, new husbandry protocols and major investment in bio-secure facilities are making such infections increasingly rare.’
He said part of the success in bringing antibiotic down to zero was Scottish Sea Farms’ ‘holistic approach’ to fish health and welfare, with vets involved in farm management.
‘But there is no room for complacency,’ said Mr Soutar.
‘There is an element of luck because there is always a possibility, whether you’re farming plants or animals, of emerging diseases that appear and cause problems,’ he said.
‘We will consider antibiotic use if, in specific circumstances, veterinary advice is that it is essential for the protection of fish welfare.
‘The important thing is to keep applying the lessons learned, from dealing with other bacterial diseases, to new threats – that and developing more vaccines to further reduce the need for antibiotics.
‘The last year has really confirmed our long-held belief that vaccines are the answer.’