There was a slight increase in volume of the antibiotics used to treat UK livestock in the latest year, although the trend remains downwards. Industry has revised its reduction targets, with a particular focus on cattle.

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)’s annual Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS 2019) report shows that UK antibiotic sales for food-producing animals halved since the 62 mg/kg recorded for 2014.

However, there was a slight increase from 29.5 mg/kg in 2018 to 31.0 mg/kg in 2019, which the VMD attributes to disease challenges from exceptionally poor weather and novel pathogens. But the latest report also shows domestic levels of antibiotic resistance are largely stabilising or reducing – a key objective of the improved stewardship campaign.

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance has updated its farm antibiotic reduction targets for the next four-year period. It covers 10 sectors across aquaculture, pigs, poultry and ruminants, with calf rearing examined in isolation for the first time – specific health and welfare interventions at this stage can reduce the later need for antibiotics.

“With over 75% of the original targets now achieved early, or on track to be achieved by the December 2020 deadline, the time is right to ‘reset’ in some sectors with refreshed challenges for the next four years,” says RUMA chair Cat McLaughlin. “The UK farming industry has responded extremely well to the targets. Our original aim of lowering overall antibiotic use, and in particular highest-priority critically important antibiotics (HP-CIAs), has been categorically achieved in the face of some challenging external conditions,” she says.

“Most sectors are now capturing data on antibiotic use across 90% or more of their sector which has been a key part of the success. Even where usage data is lacking but good sales data are available, for example in cattle and sheep, sizable reductions have been achieved.

The cattle and sheep sectors are larger and more diverse than other species, making data collection difficult. The 2024 targets will use the new AHDB Medicine Hub – a UK centralised database for ruminants – to try and improve this.

Therefore, specific reduction goals have not been set for beef and sheep, but the dairy and calf rearing sectors will seek to reduce by 15% and 25% respectively across the national herd.

The pig sector will decrease usage by a further 30% by 2024 and gamebirds 40%. Poultry meat, laying hens and the salmon and trout sector targets are unchanged following the significant reductions in recent years.