Use of antibiotics in UK livestock falls again, report shows

UK veterinary antibiotics sales have more than halved over the past six years, the VMD's report says
UK veterinary antibiotics sales have more than halved over the past six years, the VMD's report says

The use of antibiotics in UK livestock has fallen again with sales more than halving over the past six years, according to a new report released by the government.

Last year saw another drop in the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, having reduced by 52% in just six years between 2014 and 2020.

This means that the UK now has one of the lowest levels of antibiotic use in Europe, according to the government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is recognised as one of the biggest threats to both human and animal health at a global level.

It occurs when microorganisms that cause infection change over time, and no longer respond to medicines which would normally kill or stop their growth - making infections harder to treat.

The main driver of resistance is antibiotic use. As such, the farming industry has been reducing unnecessary use of antibiotics, especially Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics (HP-CIAs) in animals.

The VMD's report notes that this is the sixth consecutive year of a decline in use of HP-CIAs, giving a total reduction of 79% since 2014, and they now account for only 0.5% of the total antibiotic sales in 2020.

The annual report shows the second lowest-recorded amount of antibiotics sold for use in food-producing animals, at 30.1 mg/kg: less than half the levels recorded in 2014.

And since 2019, reductions in antibiotic use were reported by the pig, chicken, turkey and gamebird sectors.

Abigail Seager, chief executive of the VMD, welcomed the report: “Working closely with the farming industry and the veterinary profession, we have achieved huge reductions in the use of antibiotics since 2014 and we are seeing reductions in resistance as well.

“These successes are testament to the cooperation between farmers and vets in promoting the responsible use of antibiotics.”

Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, added that it was 'encouraging' to see farmers and vets work together to tackle antibiotic resistance.

“This year’s report shows how the UK continues to make important reductions in antibiotic use in livestock across the board," she said.

"We are committed to protecting animal health, and we will continue to work closely with industry and the veterinary profession on this important issue.”