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.