UK maintains world-leading effective antibiotic stewardship in livestock

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Sales of antibiotics for use in livestock have reduced by 55% since 2014 to the lowest ever recorded level, the government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) confirmed today (08 November).

The latest UK-Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS) annual report shows how the UK is maintaining world-leading effective antibiotic stewardship in livestock, with reductions in farm-level antibiotic use reported by the pig, chicken, duck and trout sectors.

Antibiotic resistance – otherwise known as antimicrobial resistance or AMR – arises when microorganisms that cause infection change, and no longer respond to medicines which normally kill them or stop their growth, making infections harder to treat.  

The World Health Organization recognises Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) as one of the greatest threats to human and animal health in the world today.

The likelihood of resistance occurring increases when antibiotics are overused, so using them responsibly is crucial in ensuring these life-saving medicines continue to work in both humans and animals

There has been a concerted effort into reducing use of ‘last-resort’ antibiotics critical to treating disease in humans (Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics, or HP-CIAs). Sales of these have declined for a seventh consecutive year, with a 83% reduction since 2014 and now accounting for just 0.4% of the total antibiotic sales.

The UK remains one of the lowest users of antimicrobials in livestock in Europe and has achieved one of the biggest reductions in resistance.

Abigail Seager, Chief Executive of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate said:

“I’m delighted with the continued progress in so many areas of this year’s UK- VARSS report. The overall decreasing trends in antimicrobial usage and resistance levels in livestock, shows the UK has continued in its mission to build on the antibiotic stewardship principles we have implemented in the past seven years.

“Our evolving surveillance programmes are essential to alert us to any emerging risks or unexpected changes. The UK’s collaborative and voluntary approach to reducing antimicrobial usage in farming is one we are very proud of.”

Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer added:

“Antimicrobials are the cornerstone to treating infection in humans and animals and using them responsibly is essential in safeguarding their effectiveness.

“The UK as a whole is making sustained progress in reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics through effective disease control measures, good farming practices and robust AMR surveillance. Tackling antimicrobial resistance requires a One Health approach and this record reduction shows how alongside vets, farmers and industry, we are demonstrating this year after year.

“The UK’s voluntary approach to collecting antibiotic use data and target setting, is an example of government, industry, and veterinary professionals working collectively to achieve effective antibiotic stewardship and we continue to make our AMR surveillance programmes more robust. Surveillance is essential for monitoring emerging risks and the data we will be collecting over time will help protect people, animals and our environment.”

Responsible use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) Chair, Cat McLaughlin said:

“The RUMA Targets Task Force Report presents a consolidated view of the targets and indicators of progress across the livestock industry. We are two years into the RUMA 2021-2024 targets and many sectors are reporting positive progress, with all sectors continuing to strive to keep antibiotics effective and fit for purpose, and only using them when necessary.

“I continue to be impressed by the commitment of farmers, vets and everyone in the food supply chain, and am full of praise for the work of UK agriculture in its efforts to tackle AMR.”

The Government says it welcomes the new Targets Task Force update report from the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), which highlights the progress animal sectors have made against targets for antibiotic stewardship. These targets play a pivotal role in the success of the industry reducing antibiotic usage since 2014 and are essential in Government’s work going forward.

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