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New report shows progress in achieving farm antibiotic targets to reduce, refine & replace

Twelve months after industry-led targets for antibiotic use were identified for all main farm livestock species in the UK, a review of progress has been released, including details of where targets have been achieved early and where challenges remain.

The ‘One Year On’ report, issued today (16 November) by RUMA’s Targets Task Force, is a follow up to the work of the group in 2017, when a leading farmer and veterinary surgeon from each sector identified different starting points and potential for reduction in each species then worked with their respective sectors to gain support for the plans [1].

RUMA’s secretary general Chris Lloyd says this new review not only shows the transparency and accountability with which each sector is addressing its targets, but also collects information on progress into one place.

“The UK farming industry has already achieved reductions of 40% in sales of antibiotics over the past five years [2] and is one of the lowest users of antibiotics in Europe. However, delivering against these and future sector-specific goals will be key to meeting the government’s ambitions in its new 5-year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy, to be released early next year,” he explains.

“What this review shows is the industry as a whole is committed and making good progress – but also that the sectors are all in very different places.

“Some species have met their targets already but now, with a measure of what’s happening in their sector, they know they can go further and are working on new goals. For others at or around their optimal level of use, progress is about animal health, continual refinements to what they do and working to overcome new diseases threats as they emerge.”

He says the pig sector is on track to meet its ambitious target reductions by 2020 but there is 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.

“Cattle and sheep farmers and their veterinary surgeons are also working on a range of interventions, although a lack of representative data on antibiotic use across these specific sectors continues to be a challenge. If they had access to better data, this would give them more clarity over what is actually being used, and when – and where – improvements could be made.”

Mr Lloyd also stresses the importance of responsible reductions that do not compromise animal health and its associated welfare.

“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.”

Download RUMA TTF 1 year on – Full Report FINAL here.

[1] Targets Task Force report. RUMA, October 2017

[2] Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance Report 2017


Response to FSA surveillance report on antimicrobial-resistant E. coli in meat

RUMA welcomes the latest antibiotic resistance surveillance report from the Food Standards Agency (FSA), published today. The positive news is that levels of antimicrobial resistant E. coli in UK retail meat remain low. This is consistent with the findings of other recent UK surveillance which has found that the number and levels of antibiotic-resistant isolates is not increasing, or is even reducing in some areas, despite the complexity of the relationship between antibiotic use and the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The anomaly of the mcr-1 gene found in the imported (non-UK) beef sample as reported by the FSA appears to be a one-off incident. However, while isolation of a colistin-resistant organism does not mean that colistin has been used in that animal, this finding has given all sectors an opportunity to review current tight measures regarding use of Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics (HP-CIAs).

All veterinary organisations covering the main farm animal species in the UK have restricted use of colistin to absolute last resort or eliminated its use completely over the past three years. Regarding the specific situation in cattle, the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) issued guidance in January 2017 that colistin should only be used as last resort when no other options remain to safeguard animal welfare, and once sensitivity testing has been carried out.

Further safeguards are in place through Red Tractor, which covers 85% of UK beef production, stating that HP-CIAs for the beef, lamb and dairy sectors must only used as a last resort under veterinary direction alongside sensitivity and/or diagnostic testing.

For context, sales of colistin in UK farm animals have fallen 99% since 2013, and just 7kg in total was used in 2017. This is one thousandth of the EU recommended maximum.

Gamebird producers slash antibiotic use

RUMA has welcomed figures released today which show that in the two years since the gamebird sector rolled out its voluntary campaign to reduce antibiotics, overall use has fallen by 51%, with antibiotics incorporated in gamebird feed slashed by 70%.

The figures, announced by The Game Farmers’ Association (GFA), have been calculated in collaboration with Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and are based on prescriptions written by gamebird vets throughout the UK. The association says that a further year of good engagement by the gamebird sector in 2018 has brought overall usage of antibiotics down by another 24% this year. Together with last year’s substantial fall, this confirms that the industry has halved antibiotic use since our voluntary campaign was rolled out in 2016.

Detailed analysis of the 2018 result shows that in-feed use fell by 35% this year, whilst use of antibiotic in soluble treatments fell by 10%. The difference reflects a continuing focus on treating actual disease outbreaks rather than feeding medicated rations ‘just in case’, and also the need to treat some late disease outbreaks associated with the excessively hot summer.

Further antibiotic reductions in farming welcomed amid calls for better cattle and sheep data

A fall of 18% in sales of all antibiotics used to treat UK farm animals last year, and 29% in sales of highest priority critically-important antibiotics (HP-CIAs), has been welcomed by RUMA.

The new data released today (24 October) by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) in its 2017 Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (VARSS) report means that sales of veterinary antibiotics for use in farm animals have fallen by a total of 40% since 2013, and now sit at 37mg/kg.

The VMD’s surveillance programme also shows that resistance to antibiotics in bacterial isolates taken from food-producing animals remains low for most antibiotics, and is absent for others.

RUMA chair Gwyn Jones has praised the hard work undertaken to reach this point, with the UK one of the lowest users of antibiotics for farm animals in Europe. But he also cautions there is lots more to do in driving responsible use while safeguarding animal health and welfare and food safety. Engagement with efforts to improve data collection remains a key part of this.

“Because a large percentage of products are used to treat multiple species of animal, figures for actual use by species, on farms, are critical to understand patterns in individual sectors. They are also needed to help those sectors to monitor, improve and get recognition for their achievements – and to meet their 2020 antibiotic use targets,” explains Mr Jones.

He says most of the reductions over the past few years have come from first the poultry meat sector, then pig and gamebird sectors, which have all released comprehensive usage figures covering almost all their producers.

Smaller datasets are being accessed for dairy and beef – a big step forward – but national data on these sectors remains harder to capture due to their more diverse supply chains, the large number of producers involved and greater prevalence of mixed enterprise operations.

“This means we can’t be sure of how representative the figures are,” says Mr Jones. “For example, antibiotic usage figures in the 2017 VARSS report indicate that dairy cows fell from 26mg/kg in 2016 to 17mg/kg in 2017. This is based on one large dataset of veterinary practice prescriptions – the best we currently have – but we must be mindful that because this database covers 31% of dairy cows, it may not be typical of the whole dairy sector.

“Recent studies have also suggested that while few antibiotics are used in the best dairy operations, a small number of farms could be responsible for a large portion of use*. Improving the quality of data collection can only help us better understand where we really are, and inform and advise those who need to change their practices.”

Similar issues have arisen in beef cattle with the relatively small dataset in the 2017 VARSS report suggesting antibiotic use at 19mg/kg, whereas it was previously considered to be lower. “A wide range across different types and stages of beef production is likely, but we won’t know unless we have meaningful national data from producers themselves.

“The same applies to the sheep sector, which is working very hard with great leadership on tackling usage ‘hotspots’, but currently lacks the data to quantify progress,” adds Mr Jones.

One solution could be around the corner in the form of an electronic Medicine Book (eMB) for cattle. Currently being run as a pilot project at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), eMB-Cattle is being modelled on the successful eMB-Pigs, which – based on a Red Tractor assurance requirement – has secured antibiotic usage data for around 90% of the national pig herd in 2017.

In the meantime cattle and sheep farmers have responded positively to the call for responsible use, and individual veterinary practices, assurance schemes, retail supply chains and consultants have launched initiatives over the past two years to support them. These range from recording and benchmarking antibiotic use to systematic evaluation of current practices so that areas to improve stewardship can be identified.

RUMA will cover many of these initiatives in a ‘Targets Task Force: One-Year On’ report on progress against sector-specific goals, due to be released in November.


* Quantitative analysis of antimicrobial use on British dairy farms. Hyde R et al, Veterinary Record (2017) 181(25).

Latest ESVAC report highlights overall progress as well as UK efforts to reduce antibiotic use

While UK farm animal antibiotic sales data for 2016 have been out for almost 12 months, the European Medicines Agency’s Eighth ESVAC report on Sales of veterinary antimicrobial agents in 30 European countries in 2016 is the first opportunity to review progress to reduce, refine or replace antibiotics across all European countries in that year. While different countries face very different challenges which make it difficult to compare progress, the ESVAC report is useful for ensuring the UK is making appropriate and adequate contributions to responsible use of antibiotics which are important to both human and animal health.

Overall, it’s very welcome news that antibiotic sales for European farm animals have fallen so significantly over the past 6 years – by some 20%. The UK’s significant reduction in antibiotic use over the past two years means that it was among the lowest users of antibiotics overall in 2016, but particularly among countries that have large domestic populations and /or highly productive farm animal sectors.

To quantify this in antibiotic sales per weight of livestock (in kg) at time of treatment (mg/PCU), the UK’s 2016 sales of antibiotics to food producing animals was 45mg/PCU compared with the European average of 125mg/PCU. The UK had the lowest colistin sales of any country maintaining access to this highest priority antibiotic, at just 0.02mg/PCU against the European average of 6.4mg/PCU; the EU’s recommended maximum level of use for colistin is 1mg/PCU. And UK sales of the other highest priority antibiotics – fluoroquinolones and 3rd & 4th generation cephalosporins – also show good progress, at 0.2mg/PCU and 0.1mg/PCU respectively compared with European averages 2.7mg/PCU and 0.2mg/PCU.

While the downward trend in usage across Europe is a positive start, it is important to ensure that animals continue to be able to receive the most appropriate treatment when necessary. For this reason the EU must promote and support the development of alternative treatments and management tools to deliver improvements in animal health and welfare and public health.

UK (mg/PCU) EU Average (mg/PCU)
Total Use 45 124.6
Fluoroquinolones 0.2 2.7
3rd and 4th Gen Cephalosporins 0.1 0.2
Polymyxins (colistin) 0.02 6.4

UK antibiotic sales data for 2017 are due to be released in late October 2018.

Campaign aims to remind prescribers and farmers that #VaccinesWork

A new #VaccinesWork campaign running from early September to the end of October will explore the role vaccines can play in helping to protect health and welfare in all farm animal sectors, and in supporting reductions, replacements or refinements in antibiotic use.

In particular, it will highlight the differences in vaccine penetration between farm animal sectors, highlighting where there may be scope for greater uptake, as well as the gains to be made from storing, handling and administering vaccines correctly.

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance, which is co-ordinating the campaign, says the poultry and fish sectors have successfully used vaccines for a number of years within comprehensive and integrated health programmes. With considerable achievements in antibiotic stewardship under their belts, it’s hoped other sectors will take inspiration from this.

“Vaccination is not a ‘silver bullet’ for disease control, but it can be an important part of an infection prevention and control of disease planning process, which all farms should have in place in consultation with their vet,” explains RUMA’s secretary general Chris Lloyd.

“In the sheep and cattle sectors, uptake of vaccines is generally low, so the campaign will ask farmers and prescribers to consider whether there is scope to increase levels of vaccination to improve herd or flock immunity – and potentially profitability – on their farms.

“Vaccination is already much higher in pigs, but improving how vaccines are stored, handled and administered could boost results significantly.”

He points out that more than 50 vaccines are currently available for both cattle and pigs to treat a wide range of bacterial, viral and protozoal diseases, and almost 30 for sheep [1]. “We want to ask whether we are really making best use of the protection these could offer,” he says.

He says figures from 2016 suggest only 17% of cattle that could be vaccinated against Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) were given vaccine despite half of herds being affected, and just 22% of cattle received the vaccine for the virus that causes Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) despite the disease being present in 70% of herds [2].

“Sheep face similar challenges,” says Mr Lloyd. “Just 42% of sheep farmers are currently vaccinating against clostridial diseases and pasteurellosis, two of the most common preventable diseases causing death in sheep and lambs. And only 36% are vaccinating for enzootic abortion and 22% for toxoplasmosis, which are responsible for more than three-quarters of abortions or stillbirths between them [3].”

Specialist sheep veterinarian Fiona Lovatt says vaccination against both abortion and footrot are key elements of the sector’s plans to tackle ‘hotspot’ areas of antibiotic use in what is a relatively low-use sector. But she says farmers will need to move quickly if they want to improve protection against abortion for the coming season.

“Ewes need to be vaccinated four weeks before the tups are turned out,” she explains. “So farmers need to act quickly to protect their ewes and prevent abortions at their next lambing. Everyone who buys in ewes is at risk of enzootic abortion and by far the best protection – as well as the most cost-effective – is to vaccinate ewes before they go to the tup for the first time.”

Pigs have far higher uptake of vaccines than cattle and sheep, with 90% of all eligible pigs being vaccinated for Porcine Circovirus (PCV2) and around 70% for Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae. Vaccination for Porcine Reproductive & Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), known as Blue Ear, is also common.

But Mandy Nevel from AHDB Pork says that while uptake of vaccines is high, this doesn’t guarantee the vaccines will work as well as they could.

“It’s good news that vaccines are so well-used, but the number of animals involved means vaccination is not an easy job. It can be stressful to handlers and animals, leading to short cuts and poor practice.

“A failure to correctly follow storage, administration and vaccine course instructions can undermine the efficacy of the vaccine which can mean they do not work as well as they can. This may include incorrect storage temperatures – especially freezing – as well as expired use-by dates and failure to deliver the full course.

“This is why – for pigs – the #VaccinesWork campaign will be encouraging producers to look at what could be stopping them and their employees making the most of their vaccination programmes.”

In order to ensure prescribed vaccines work effectively, it is essential that the manufacturer and prescriber’s instructions on storage, dose rate and dose interval (e.g. if repeat doses are needed) are followed accurately.

Occasionally, a disease challenge may present itself for which there is no suitable licensed vaccine. In consultation with the farm vet, laboratories can sometimes  develop what are known as autogenous vaccines specific to the pathogen causing the problem on the farm. The vet may also, in some circumstances and in consultation with the regulatory authorities, be able to import a suitable vaccine from either another EU country or from outside of the EU.

To find out more about #VaccinesWork go to, where you can post messages of support or advice, and tweet your top tips.



[1]  NOAH Compendium (2018)

[2], [3]  MSD, Looking Beyond Antibiotics (2017)

New AMR surveillance report from FSA welcomed by RUMA

The Food Standards Agency has today released a surveillance study of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria isolated from chicken and pork on sale in the UK. Its aim is to address current gaps in evidence about the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in meat, and throw light on any links with antibiotics used to treat disease in farm animals.

Gwyn Jones, the Chair of the RUMA Alliance, has welcomed the report, saying: “Our focus is on reducing, refining or replacing antibiotic use; while some livestock sectors have already achieved extraordinary results, there is definitely more to do in others. We believe the FSA’s new research will add to the bank of knowledge and help identify additional interventions that have the potential to reduce antimicrobial resistant bacteria in food, while safeguarding our continued access to antibiotics which treat disease and prevent pain or suffering in animals.”

He added: “It’s important to recognise that antibiotic resistance is a naturally-occurring phenomenon which happens as bacteria defend themselves against attack. Resistant bacteria can be found anywhere and everywhere, and any use of antibiotics in human or animal medicine can lead to the development of resistance. However, cutting antibiotic use doesn’t necessarily cut the levels of resistant bacteria found, and that is why this study will prove valuable over time as more datasets are added.

“In the meantime, we are pleased that the FSA’s advice is the risk presented by any antibiotic resistant bacteria in food remains very low, and that raw food should – as ever – be stored appropriately, handled hygienically and cooked thoroughly to ensure any bacteria present, resistant or not, are destroyed.”

Conference to examine AMR in the food chain

Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Christine Middlemiss will give the keynote address at the first national conference to examine global impacts of farm antibiotic use which is aimed at the food supply chain.

Covering the whole chain from ‘farm and vet to ‘fork’ but focusing specifically on the processing, retail and food service sectors, the ‘Antibiotic Stewardship in Animal Health and the Food Chain‘ conference will be held on 4 October at Resource for London (London, N7).

The conference, which is supported by RUMA, will show how good antibiotic stewardship is a key part of tackling the global epidemic of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It will take a novel look at how strategies in different food supply chains are proving successful in ensuring the ongoing effectiveness of antibiotics that treat both animals and humans.

Speaking about the reason for bringing representatives of these sectors together at this event, Conference Director Scott Buckler said: “The global health crisis caused by antibiotic resistance should not be underestimated by any professional working in animal or food sectors.

“While progress has been made in some areas, the issue is still being ignored by too many organisations. We want to change that at this event, and highlight the urgent need to engage and act.

“As well as equipping attendees with tools, guidance, support and an understanding of the facts and priorities, we will be inspiring them with success stories. For example, poultry meat is one of the sectors that is sometimes criticised in the media – but in the UK they have reduced antibiotic use by 82% in six years. The British Poultry Council will be speaking at the event to clear up some of the myths and show how they brought their sector together in a ground-breaking antibiotic stewardship programme,” said Scott.

Also speaking at the event are Professor Guy Poppy from the Food Standards Agency, Professor Peter Borriello from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, and the Presidents of both the British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy and the Society for Applied Microbiology, Philip Howard and Professor Mark Fielder.

Representatives from Marks and Spencer, Tesco, NOAH, Business Benchmark for Farm Animal Welfare, University of Bristol, RUMA, Bella Moss Foundation, Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, and the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust will also be presenting.

RUMA is pleased to support this conference. For more information, and to book, go to Please note tickets are limited.

RUMA position on feeding waste milk to calves

RUMA has issued a new position on feeding calves waste milk from cows treated with antibiotics. It says: “Waste milk (excluding colostrum*) from cows under the statutory withdrawal period for antibiotics should not be fed to youngstock. Based on current evidence it is recommended that a practical solution for on-farm disposal is to dispose of waste milk in the slurry pit. RUMA encourages further research into disposal options to identify practical alternatives and to gain a better understanding of any potential environmental interactions associated with disposal via this route.”


Interim report shows UK farming’s progress towards antibiotic use targets

RUMA has released a half-year summary of the UK farming industry’s progress towards achieving 2020 targets for antibiotic use in each of eight different livestock sectors.

The targets, developed last year by the Targets Task Force and published in October 2017, include a number of numerical and qualitative goals towards reducing, refining or replacing antibiotic use in UK farm animals.

RUMA’s secretary general Chris Lloyd says a comprehensive review of progress is due in November. “In the meantime this four-page summary provides a flavour of some of the activities being implemented to build on the successful reduction of 27% in overall farm antibiotic sales 2014-2016.”

He adds that it’s important to note each sector is very different – in terms of when they were first able to engage with the issue, disease pressure, number of producers and structure. “This is why some have already made significant changes and are ‘refining’ how and when antibiotics are used, while others are working on bigger issues of data, communication and usage ‘hotspots’,” says Mr Lloyd.

“But whatever the stage, all remain fully engaged on driving improvement and best practice to ensure the targets can be achieved by 2020.”

Download the half-year summary here RUMA Half Year Summary FINAL.

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