We are moving away from antibiotic use in farm animals

Posted: 26 October 2020 | | No comments yet

A new report shows a significant reduction in sales of antibiotics for farm animals in Europe between 2011 and 2018.

antibiotic sales down cow

The 10th annual report from the European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption (ESVAC) examining antibiotic sales across different European countries in 2018, was published this week. It revealed that sales fell by more than a third over this period, with the UK retaining its position as having the fifth lowest sales overall – 71 percent lower than the EU average in terms of mg/PCU, a standardised unit of animal biomass. 

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance, which promotes the highest standards of food safety, animal health and animal welfare in the British livestock industry, has welcomed the report.

RUMA chair Cat McLaughlin said that it was good news that antibiotic use in European farm animals had fallen so significantly over the past seven years. 

“It’s very positive to see this downward trend across almost all countries, not just in terms of total sales but also the highest priority antibiotics – third and fourth generation cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones and colistin,” she said. 

“While the use of antibiotics in food production is not the main driver of antibiotic resistant infections in people, it can be a contributing factor. Any use of an antibiotic has the potential to create resistance and as part of a One Health approach, we all have a duty to protect the efficacy of medical and veterinary antibiotics by reducing, refining or replacing use.”

UK among lowest antibiotic users

She said that within the bigger European picture, the UK’s significant reductions in antibiotic use in farm animals meant it remained among the lowest users of antibiotics overall. It is also the lowest among European countries with large domestic populations and farm animal sectors.  

“The efforts and enthusiasm demonstrated by the UK livestock farmers and animal health practitioners to embrace RUMA principles of using antibiotics and other veterinary medicines responsibly to achieve these results has been phenomenal,” said Ms McLaughlin. 

In addition to the newly published ESVAC figures from 2018, UK figures for 2019 sales of antibiotics for farm animals are due out shortly too, along with new sector-specific targets for the UK livestock industry for 2021-2024.   

“We’ve seen many livestock sectors facing new disease and environmental challenges, or experience challenges with data collection,” McLaughlin said. “This makes the forthcoming release of the new targets and a ‘reset’ of activities very timely.”

Some sectors saw a small uptake in antibiotic use in 2019 to address specific disease challenges, so were treating animals to safeguard health and welfare as well as food safety. But overall, the UK remained in a very good place she said. 

“While these challenges are likely to be reflected in the 2019 sales data out shortly, the improvements in husbandry, management and responsible use that underpin the broader direction of travel are proving robust and widely beneficial. 

“So, I would like to thank everyone, on RUMA’s behalf, for these continuing efforts. What we are seeing is a true demonstration of what can be achieved when people come together voluntarily to just do the right thing.”