UK on course to hit antibiotic reduction target by 2018
Published:  17 November, 2016

Sales of antibiotics for usage on UK animals have reached an all-time low, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). 

This means the UK is on track to meet targets to tackle antibiotic resistance. The governmental body said that with experts believing the lack of action could lead to millions of deaths per year, the global economy could spend $100 trillion by 2050 on tackling the problem.

The report, released today (17 November), showed that overall sales by weight dropped by 9% from 2014 to 2015, while sales for use in food-producing animals fell 10% from 62 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) to 56mg/kg. This followed on from a continuous downward trend over 10 years and put the UK on course to reach its 50mg/kg target by 2018.

The report also showed that there has been a drop in sales of the highest priority antibiotics that are critically important to humans. Sales of these contributed to just over 1% of all antibiotics sold for use in animals in 2015.

“Antibiotic resistance is the biggest threat to modern medicine and we must act now to help keep antibiotics effective for future generations,” said Defra minister for rural affairs and biosecurity Lord Gardiner. “This report shows the hard work of our vets and farmers is already making a real impact.

“Our farmers and vets are setting an excellent example for others around the world to follow, upholding the UK’s position at the forefront of international efforts to tackle AMR.”

A total of 193 countries universally endorsed a declaration to fight antimicrobial resistance at the 71st United Nations General Assembly, which is only the fourth ever UN Declaration on a health issue.

To enable sustainable change throughout the supply chain, in September Defra committed to set long-term sector-specific targets by 2017. Progress has already been made to decrease antibiotic use. For example, the meat industry almost halved its use of critically important antibiotics from 2012 to 2015 by improving training, stewardship, stockmanship and disease control. The pig industry in the UK has launched a successful online tool to record, benchmark and control antibiotic use.

“The UK is making good progress in the fight against AMR and it is particularly encouraging to see how engaged and committed the industry is to this cause,” commented the UK’s chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens.

“Those who work with animals have a key role to play in the global fight against antibiotic resistance to monitor use and reduce it wherever we can. Clearly, we must not ease up in our efforts, but it is great to see that we are on track.”

Since 2006, the use of antibiotics for non-medical purposes in the EU has been banned, with additional measures making sure that food does not contain antibiotics when it reaches the table of consumers. Producers using antibiotics in livestock for medical purposes must practise a safe withdrawal process before the animal goes to slaughter or is sold for consumption, which is set out by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and European Medicines Agency. Meat products that are imported into the EU from the rest of the world must also comply to its own set of rules.

Reductions in antibiotics in animals are part of the UK’s wider One Health programme to tackle resistance in humans, animals and the environment. Commitments made by the Department of Health include halving the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics in humans by 2020 and to halve the number of healthcare associated bloodstream infection that post the biggest threat by 2020.

“Drug-resistant infections are a global problem and the potential for human, animal and economic damage is devastating,” said Professor Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer.

“We need everyone to take action to prevent the spread of drug resistant infections. Inappropriate antibiotic use in the farming sector is known to contribute to the development of drug-resistant infections. Countries or areas that use more antibiotics often have higher rates of resistant bacteria that are harder to treat.

“I welcome the progress being made by farmers and vets in the UK. This action, combined with the efforts of health professionals to reduce inappropriate prescribing in human health demonstrates the truly One Health approach the UK is taking to save modern medicine.

“It is critical we work together to get this right. We must take a One Health approach and work together locally, nationally and internationally to get the best outcomes for humans, animals and the environment.”

These latest developments have been described as “very encouraging” by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA). “We are delighted to see the hard work that has been taking place in the farming industry over the past couple of years is already paying off,” said the alliance’s secretary general John FitzGerald.

“This is a complex challenge and it’s a fine balance to reduce and refine the use of antibiotics without compromising animal welfare. These results bode well for the 2016 figures as momentum builds in tackling the challenge of antibiotic resistance in farm animals.”