The UK livestock industries have set new targets to reduce, refine or replace antibiotic use across the farmed species. The move comes as government data shows a marked fall in antibiotic use in animal agriculture.

Defra and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) report that sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals dropped by 27% from 62 mg/kg in 2014 to 45mg/kg in 2016. This is the lowest level since records began in 1993 and exceeds the government target for a reduction to 50mg/kg as a measure to combat the threat of antibiotic resistance (AMR) by two years. The latter limit was a recommendation in the 2016 O’Neill Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

The new sector-specific reduction targets were developed over the past year by a Targets Task Force, comprising a leading veterinary surgeon and farmer from each of the beef; dairy; pig; sheep; poultrymeat; egg; fish and gamebird sectors. Each task Force worked in consultation with key organisations in their respective industries plus observers from the Food Standards Agency and VMD regulators. The overall initiative was facilitated by the cross industry Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance.

The targets, which vary by sector according to the availability of data and scope, are described as ‘positive and proactive’ by the VMD, which has also welcomed the voluntary sharing of usage data by the different livestock sectors.

The dairy cattle sector has committed to a 20% reduction by 2020, with a particular focus on halving use of the highest priority critically important Antibiotics (CIAs). The work to achieve this will be led by a newly-created Dairy Antimicrobial Stewardship Group (DASG) which includes all key organisations in the sector. Strategies include reducing the use of antibiotic dry cow therapy and injectable products; and cutting back on group treatments such as antibiotic footbaths for lameness by opting for topical and targeted treatments.

The pig target is for a 60% reduction between 2015 and 2020, with minimal use of highest priority CIAs. The pig sector usage fell by 35% between 2015 and 2016, and the industry will continue to eliminate routine preventative treatments and work on water delivery systems rather than in-feed medication.

The poultry meat, laying hen and fish sectors are already low users of medicines or have made significant reductions over the past five years. Each will focus on maintaining minimal usage consistent with health and welfare. The poultrymeat sector reduced use by 71% between 2012 and 2016 through a when its stewardship scheme. The gamebird sector aims to reduce use by 25% in 2017 and a further 25% between 2018 and 2020.

The beef and sheep sectors are also low users of antibiotics, but have committed to a 10% reduction in antibiotic use by 2020 allied to better data collection.

The RUMA and VMD reports can be downloaded via: RUMA Targets Task Force Report 2017 and 2016 VARSS report.