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Response to marginal rise in antibiotic sales for food-producing animals in 2019

Following year-on-year reductions in sales of antibiotics for UK farm animals between 2014 to 2018, there was a slight increase from 29.5 mg/kg in 2018 to 31.0 mg/kg in 2019. Explaining this, Cat McLaughlin, chair of RUMA, said:

“We’re very pleased to report that since 2014, sales of antibiotics to treat farm animals have halved, and we have cut use of the most important antibiotics by 75% through a series of unique voluntary initiatives. This has left us with the fifth-lowest sales of antibiotics used in food production in Europe, with only the far Nordic countries using less.

“But let me be clear, judging progress solely on top line figures is dangerous, as it risks demonising any antibiotic use irrespective of how and why it is being used, and this must not happen.

“Antibiotics remain a vital tool for the protection of animal health and welfare, and it is important that any data on antibiotic usage or sales is reviewed in that light. There will always be disease challenges, and when these affect sectors – as we saw with pigs and broilers last year – vets and farmers need to be able to respond with all the appropriate tools available, even antibiotics.

“It should also be noted that while vets were dealing with these difficult situations in 2019, they maintained reductions in prescriptions of highest priority antibiotics, which are generally used at far lower dosage rates than older chemistry. Hence this may have also been a contributing factor in the small increase in sales we saw.

“As the chief executive of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate Professor Peter Borriello has recently emphasised, some of the rapid reductions in antibiotic use we have seen so far in the UK have been achieved by focusing on reducing prophylactic and continual use. Now these have been largely eliminated, further reductions are likely to be harder to achieve and will require a focus on preventing disease and improving farm management.

“We always knew that at some point we would see reductions levelling off, and with more than three quarters of the sector-specific goals set by our vet- and farmer-led Targets Task Force in 2017 now achieved, a ‘reset’ is timely. This has been delivered in a new set of targets released last month, which show our sectors are investing in the combined skills of vets and farmers to maintain momentum around responsible use.”

Last month, the UK pig sector announced that having struggled to achieve its intended reductions in antibiotic use in 2019 due to the swine dysentery outbreak, progress has already been resumed with a fall of 5% in the first half of 2020, from 110 mg/kg to 104 mg/kg.

‘Responsible’, the industry news briefing from RUMA – November 2020

New antibiotic use targets released by RUMA Targets Task Force; Environment Agency identifies framework for environmental AMR; field test to help dairy farmers tackle antimicrobial resistance; MilkSure joins BCVA CPD programme; new responsible use group for companion animals and horses; sheep health & welfare conference….and more – just click here!

New antibiotic targets for UK farm animals build on previous success

New targets for the responsible use of antibiotics in UK farm animals over the next four years have been released today, European Antibiotic Awareness Day (18 November), by a task force of leading vets and farmers.

The new goals, facilitated by RUMA and set out in ‘Targets Task Force Report 2020’, build on the successful implementation of the last targets released in 2017. Overall, these have helped to halve sales of antibiotics to treat UK farm animals and achieve the fifth-lowest usage in Europe, with only Nordic countries lower [1].

The report, launched alongside the Veterinary Medicine Directorate’s (VMD) release of antibiotic sales data for 2019, covers 10 sectors across aquaculture, pigs, poultry and ruminants. For the first time, calf rearing is examined in isolation in order to focus in on the specific health and welfare interventions that will reduce the need for antibiotic treatments.

With over 75% of the original targets now achieved early or on track to be achieved by the December 2020 deadline, the time is right to ‘reset’ in some sectors with refreshed challenges for the next four years says RUMA chair Cat McLaughlin.

“The UK farming industry has responded extremely well to the targets. Our original aim of lowering overall antibiotic use, and in particular highest-priority critically important antibiotics (HP-CIAs), has been categorically achieved in the face of some challenging external conditions,” she says.

“Most sectors are now capturing data on antibiotic use across 90% or more of their sector which has been a key part of the success.

“Even where usage data is lacking but good sales data are available, for example in cattle and sheep, sizable reductions have been achieved especially in sales of HP-CIAs.”

However she says the overall picture in terms of use in the large and diverse cattle and sheep sectors is still lacking, which is why targets for 2024 include the collection of data into the new AHDB Medicine Hub, a UK centralised database for ruminants.

Targets across the ruminant sectors also include a focus on disease prevention and herd and flock health planning, with plans to develop a new network of ‘Farm Vet Champions’. While specific reduction goals have not been set for beef and sheep, there is an aim that dairy and calf rearing will secure reductions in use of 15% and 25% respectively across the national herd by 2024 as data become available.

Other sectors aiming to achieve reductions in antibiotic use as a result of farm-level interventions include the pig sector, with plans to decrease by a further 30% by 2024, and gamebirds with a goal to cut back by 40%.

Among other activities, the pig sector is promoting best-practice guidelines to reduce post-weaning diarrhoea, a common cause of antibiotic use, and will be identifying and supporting reductions among any farmers using higher levels of antibiotics within the sector. Gamebird farmers and vets will be focusing on improved practices, research into disease and farm assurance.

The poultry meat and trout sectors achieved significant reductions in recent years, and join laying hens and salmon in opting to hold their targets at current levels.

Preventative use has been phased out completely in these sectors, meaning many animals receive no antibiotic treatments at all in their lifetime.

However, all four also face new challenges due to changing production systems, disease threat or a warming climate, and will be focusing on managing these effectively through increased vaccine development and availability, surveillance and improved management practices.

Professor Peter Borriello CB, chief executive of the VMD, has welcomed the report, confirming that the UK livestock sectors already have good progress behind them. “The ambition now outlined in this report, alongside the proactive, holistic approaches and focus on behaviour change principles gives me every confidence that they will once again succeed,” he says.

“We look forward to working with the sectors as we continue on this endeavour, which will ultimately be of benefit to the reputation of the UK livestock sectors as well as helping to protect human and animal health.”

The VMD’s Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS 2019) report, also released today, shows that UK antibiotic sales for food-producing animals have halved since 2014 (when sales were recorded at 62 mg/kg).

However, there was a slight increase from 29.5 mg/kg in 2018 to 31.0 mg/kg in 2019 [2], predominantly due to disease challenges from exceptionally poor weather and novel pathogens.

The ultimate objective of improved stewardship is reduced levels of antibiotic resistance, and UK-VARSS 2019 also shows resistance largely stabilising or reducing. In an EU report published earlier in 2020, the UK reported some of the best results in reducing incidence of antibiotic resistance among pathogens from farm animal and animal products [3].

See the new targets at

[1] European Medicines Agency (2020). Sales of veterinary antimicrobial agents in 31 European countries in 2018: Trends 2010-2018 (Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are the countries with the lowest sales).

[2] Veterinary Medicines Directorate (2020). Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance 2019

[3] European Food Safety Authority (2020). The European Union Summary Report on Antimicrobial Resistance in zoonotic and indicator bacteria from humans, animals and food in 2017/2018

New medicine initiative for pets and horses draws on farm livestock learnings

A new cross-sectoral collaboration has been announced to promote the responsible use of medicines in pets and horses.

Inspired by the success of the UK farm animal sector in reducing antibiotic use over the past five years, the RUMA Companion Animal and Equine Group will draw on those learnings to help protect important medicines for future human and animal use.

Steve Howard, head of clinical services at the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals and secretary general of the new group, explains that the initiative will initially focus on encouraging innovative and proactive efforts to promote responsible antibiotic use.

“RUMA has spearheaded successful efforts to steward antibiotic use in farmed animals over the past five years, and we would like to see whether its principles can augment the considerable progress that’s already been made in the companion animal and equine sectors,” says Mr Howard.

“The most notable of RUMA’s initiatives is the Targets Task Force, which has seen leading vets and farmers from each species working together with industry groups to develop meaningful goals for reducing, refining or replacing antibiotic use.

“Through establishing such proactive approaches towards antibiotic stewardship in companion animals and equines, we hope to optimise their health and welfare – as well as that of humans and the environment,” he says.

Although total antibiotic sales are significantly lower for companion animals compared with the farming sector, even relatively low use can result in resistance to key medicines if good stewardship principles are not applied. This in turn can create risk to both animals and their owners through their close interactions.

The collaboration will cover use of medicines in dogs, cats, rabbits, small mammals, exotic animals kept as pets, and equids. The aim is for the UK to lead the way in these sectors through evidence-based and measurable activities that will promote and enhance stewardship.

“As we’ve learned from the farm livestock industry, the engagement of stakeholders from across all companion animal and equine sectors, including partnerships with veterinary organisations and regulators will again be key to success,” says Mr Howard.

“We would like to thank the wide range of sector stakeholders who have engaged with us to date to help develop and shape this new initiative.”

Bringing previous experience from RUMA to the new group, Gwyn Jones, appointed chair, says a fundamental aim will be establishing a set of strategic sector-specific goals.

“As a collaborative group we need to establish evidence-based protocols for reducing, replacing or refining antibiotic use in companion animals, to further help preserve and prolong the use of these vital tools for human and animal health,” says Mr  Jones.

“Efforts will be focused towards identifiable goals so that progress can be monitored and demonstrated. But we will also promote practical, practice-level resources, guidance and measures aimed at driving positive behaviour changes and protecting patients and practitioners alike.”

The group aims to provide evidence of progress to report against the UK Government’s five-year national action plan for containing and controlling antimicrobial resistance, he adds. “Like the farmed animal sectors, this is a voluntary initiative, but one done with the best interests of both animals and humans at its core.”


EU continues reductions in farm antibiotic use – with UK still well-placed

Sales of antibiotics for farm animals in Europe have fallen again, signifying a reduction of over a third between 2011 and 2018. The UK retained its position as having the fifth lowest sales overall, 71% lower than the EU average in terms of mg/PCU, a standardised unit of animal biomass.

This is according to the 10th annual report from the European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption (ESVAC) examining antibiotic sales across different European countries in 2018, which was released today (21 October).

RUMA chair Cat McLaughlin welcomed the report, saying 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 – 3rd and 4th 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.”

She said that within the bigger European picture, the UK’s significant reductions in antibiotic use in farm animals over the past six years meant it remained among the lowest users of antibiotics overall – and 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.

While the ESVAC report compares 2018 data across European countries, UK figures for 2019 sales of antibiotics for farm animals are due out shortly as well. New sector-specific targets for the UK livestock industry 2021-2024 are also scheduled to be released in November. The last targets, developed by a ‘Targets Task Force’ (TTF) representing nine different livestock sectors in 2017, run their course at the end of 2020.

Ms McLaughlin explained that as UK farming neared the end of the period of time covered by the original TTF targets, most goals had now been achieved or had run their course and need revisiting.

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

Some sectors saw a small uptick 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.”

Sales of antibiotics in UK and across Europe in 2018 (ESVAC)

UK average (mg/PCU) EU country average (mg/PCU)

2016 2017 2018 2016 2017 2018
Total Use 39 32.5 29.5 124.6 107.0 103.2
Fluoroquinolones 0.2 0.2 0.1 2.7 2.4 2.5
3rd and 4th Gen Cephalosporins 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.2
Polymyxins (colistin) 0.02 <0.01 <0.01 6.4 3.6 3.4

UK poultry meat sector still hitting antibiotic use targets

RUMA has welcomed the publication of the British Poultry Council’s ‘Antibiotics Stewardship Report 2020’ containing details of 2019 antibiotic usage data in the UK poultry meat sector.

The sector was again able to deliver well within its responsible antibiotic use targets of 25 mg/kg for broilers and 50 mg/kg for turkeys, achieving 17.5 mg/kg and 42 mg/kg respectively. Data for 2019 showed no preventative use of antibiotics and further significant reductions in use of highest priority critically important antibiotics (HP-CIAs). Use in ducks remained low at 1.7 mg/kg.

Although the last two years have seen small increases in usage in the sector, the 19.7 tonnes of antibiotics used in 2019 represents an overall reduction of 76% since 2012. Over the same period there has been a 97.3% reduction in use of HP-CIAs.

Cat McLaughlin, chair of RUMA, said the sector had shown considerable leadership in antibiotic use data collection and stewardship over the past eight years. Its challenge now, as with a number of other sectors, is to protect the welfare of the animals in the face of disease challenges while maintaining its strong record of responsible antibiotic stewardship.

“It’s particularly positive that despite these challenges, the sector has continued its downward pressure on HP-CIA use. Fluoroquinolone use has fallen 97% since 2012, which means the risk of cross-resistance developing to ciprofloxacin, an important last-resort antibiotic in humans, is being minimised.

“While not classified as HP-CIAs by the European Medicines Agency, macrolides are important first line antibiotics used to treat children with Campylobacter, hence it is very positive to see use of these has fallen 96% since 2012 as well.”

The report can be downloaded from the British Poultry Council website. The poultry meat sector will, alongside the other UK farm sectors, be releasing its new antibiotic use targets for 2021-2024 towards the end of this year.

‘Responsible’, the industry news briefing from RUMA – August 2020

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