RUMA viewpoint: After years of falling sales, are reductions in antibiotic use now plateauing?

In response to this question, RUMA Secretary General, Chris Lloyd says: “The UK government set strong national reduction targets in its AMR strategy. It challenged the livestock industry to reduce antibiotic use by 25% between 2016 and 2020 – which we surpassed.

“UK sales of antibiotics to treat food producing animals have halved since 2014 and the UK holds the position of seventh-lowest sales of antibiotics for food producing animals in Europe, the lowest among more commercially productive European countries.

“In addition, Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotic (HP-CIA) sales for UK food producing animals have also fallen 75% since 2014, and sales of colistin are virtually nil. Less than 30% of the UK’s antibiotics are used to treat disease in food producing animals, despite over a billion farm animals being reared and managed in the UK every year, and levels of antibiotic resistance found through Government monitoring and surveillance are also stabilising and falling in response to reductions in use.”

The current targets up to 2024 further reinforce the ongoing commitment across all the sectors to achieve sustainable reductions.

But, it is inevitable that progress will slow down, explains Chris, as we reach that fine balance between ensuring animal health and welfare, and further sensible antibiotic reductions: “The biggest reductions have been seen in those sectors who as higher users of antibiotics were the first to tackle the issue and have been monitoring and working on reduction strategies the longest, such as the poultry and pig sectors.

“Going forward the challenge is to maintain the reduced levels of antibiotic use achieved whilst not negatively affecting the health and welfare of the animals we rear. There are plans in place to work with the higher users of antibiotics to help them reduce their use sustainably. But progress will be slower, and it is important to note that the targets are not about driving towards zero antibiotic use. Antibiotics are there as a tool to treat sick animals. The removal of these tools, whether through regulation or a loss of effectiveness, could reduce the ability of a vet to respond to an animal’s clinical need. This presents a threat to the animal’s welfare. Each sector will ultimately reach a sustainable level, below which further reductions could create issues of animal welfare. It will then be about ongoing maintenance.”