Aquaculture for all

Antibiotic use halved on Scottish salmon farms

Salmonids Bacterial diseases Medicinal treatments +7 more

Scotland’s salmon farming companies have reduced use of antibiotic medicine by more than half in the last year following the Covid-19 pandemic.

A Scottish salmon farm

A new report published by the UK Government has highlighted the sharp downward trend which follows the challenges of Covid-19 when fish had to be kept in the sea for longer.

Salmon Scotland reported in a press release: “Protecting the health of larger fish needed extra care, including, in some cases, antibiotics to treat bacterial challenges.”

The report then went on to say: “Medicines are only used when qualified vets deem it necessary to treat specific bacterial infections and when there is clear evidence that treatment will improve the health of fish, with any antibiotics only used under licence by the Scottish environmental regulator, SEPA.”

The new Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (VARSS) report shows that 2022 usage of antibiotics in salmon was 18.6 mg/kg, down 24.5 mg/kg (57 percent) from 2021. This compared to the level for pig farming which was 71.8 mg/kg, and 35.4 mg/kg for turkeys. Sheep and cattle sectors do not publish full data.

Salmon Scotland also claimed that last year fewer than one in ten seawater farms used antibiotics – indicating most salmon farms did not treat with antibiotics at all, and that the small number of farms that did so used less than half the amount of the previous year; suggesting that the environmental challenges which could be managed through antibiotics had dissipated in 2022.

The amount of antibiotics used for salmon farming last year was 15 percent more than when this information was first recorded in 2017. Scottish salmon farmers continue to publish antibiotic use data covering 100 percent of the sector.

The salmon sector has claimed that it does not use any antibiotics that have been identified as high priority for human health. It also claims that there is no trace of antibiotics making its way into the food chain.

Dr Iain Berrill, head of technical at trade body Salmon Scotland, said: “Like any medicine, antibiotics are used responsibly, sparingly and only when required in the health and welfare interests of our fish, and only under prescription from licensed veterinarians.

“The requirement to protect our fish from environmental challenges meant a significantly lower level of antibiotics were used in the past 12 months on a very small number of farms.

"As part of our commitment to transparency, we aim to reduce use as low as possible to give consumers full confidence when they enjoy one of the most nutritious and tasty foods we produce in Scotland.”

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