Veterinary antibiotic sales drop in the UK

By Aidan Fortune

- Last updated on GMT

Sales of antibiotics used for food-producing animals have more than halved over the past four years in the UK
Sales of antibiotics used for food-producing animals have more than halved over the past four years in the UK

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Sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals in the UK have reduced by 53% between 2014 and 2018.

Announced at the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) Conference in London, the sales of veterinary antibiotics for use in food-producing animals (adjusted for animal population) were 29.5 mg/kg in 2018, a 9% reduction on 2017’s figure and a 53% reduction on 2014.

Some of the high-priority focuses in antibiotics for food-producing animals saw some major reductions between 2014 and 2019. Colistin sales are down 99% in the four-year period while Third and Fourth Generation Cephalosporins sales have been reduced 66% in the same timeframe.

The UK’s chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss praised the reductions made since 2014. “A 53% reduction in sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals in just four years is a testament to the improvements industry and the veterinary profession have made in antibiotic stewardship, training and disease control. This is a great example of how real change can be achieved when Government and industry work together including through initiatives such as the Targets Task Force chaired by RUMA.

“The focus on infection prevention and control is key to reducing the need to treat with antibiotics and maintaining the UK’s world-leading standards in protecting animal health and biosecurity.”

In its Targets Task Force: Two Years On report​, RUMA outlined how the industry has already reached its 2020 targets.

RUMA chairman Gwyn Jones also praised the work done but said it may be tricky to see continued improvements. “Overall we have a positive story, with antibiotic sales having more than halved in five years, but each livestock sector is in a very different place. Even within a sector, there can be a wide range of results with some very progressive producers, and others yet to engage.

“However, disease is proving a major challenge, some of which is being exacerbated by climate change. There is also awareness of how much tougher it will get each year to deliver the changes needed; next steps could require investment or some brave decision-making for some.

“Lack of data for the cattle and sheep sectors also continues to be a problem but we are seeing some very successful initiatives now making a difference, and concerted progress has been made towards resolving the data challenge.”

When presenting the results, Veterinary Medicines Directorate head of antimicrobial resistance policy and surveillance Kitty Healey explained the slowdown in reduction in 2018 compared to that of previous years. “This isn’t a race to the bottom, it’s a race to responsible usage and perhaps we are finding that level.”

Jones stressed the importance of “optimal use”​ of antibiotics. “The approach has to be sustainable with an end-goal of optimal – not zero – use. Antibiotics play an important role in preventing pain and suffering in our farm livestock as well as ensuring food safety. This is why it’s important to judge progress against the whole range of qualitative and quantitative measures in the review.”

Earlier this year, the European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption reported that sales of antimicrobial veterinary medicinal products in the EU have dropped by almost a third​ since 2011. 

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