We welcome the “UK One Health Report: antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in animals and humans” report published today (31 January), a long-awaited review of how human and veterinary medicine in the UK have progressed since 2013 on the One Health challenge of antimicrobial resistance.
In farming, cutting the risk of resistance developing within veterinary medicine is a primary goal as we need to preserve the antibiotics we have to ensure we can continue to treat disease and – in doing so – safeguard animal health and welfare and food safety.
However, we also need to ensure that risk to human health arising from the use of antibiotics in farm animals is kept to a minimum.
We are pleased by the progress in both these areas from measures introduced to improve stewardship, pioneered by the poultry meat sector in 2012 and implemented progressively by other sectors from 2015 onwards.
This has resulted in a 35% reduction in total tonnes of antibiotics sold for use in all UK animals, which includes farm animals, pets and horses, and a halving in use of highest priority Critically Important Antibiotics (HP-CIAs).
This means that in 2013, 45% of antibiotics in the UK were used to treat all animals. In 2017, it fell to 36%. Overall, 26% of total tonnes used in people and animals was specifically for food-producing animals. Furthermore, out of the total tonnes of HP-CIAs used to treat diseases in humans and animals, 22% was used in animals in 2013 and 11% in 2017.
The result is that when tonnage is corrected by bodyweight of humans and animals, the use of antibiotics was higher in humans than in food-producing animals with 123mg/kg and 37mg/kg respectively. Both sectors have reduced their use between 2013 and 2017, by 9% in people and 40% in food producing animals.
As the main objective of lowering antibiotic use is to reduce the opportunities for resistance to develop, it is also good news that overall the report shows we are seeing a reduction in the level of resistance to critical antibiotics in zoonotic bacteria from food-producing animals and retail meat.
There is more to do, including delivering the sector-specific targets set by industry by 2020, but this report will be well-received by the farming sectors as it shows that their efforts are bearing fruit.