New targets for the responsible use of antibiotics in UK farm animals build on the success of previous measures.
Speaking at the launch of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Targets Task Force Report 2020 this week, RUMA chairwoman Cat McLaughlin said the UK farming industry had responded ’extremely well’ to the targets.
She said: "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, but we now have to build on this success."
In the beef, dairy, calf and sheep sectors where usage was largely unproven due to unavailability of data, the new targets included focusing on the collection of data into the new AHDB Medicine Hub, a UK centralised database for ruminants, which should be in operation by January 2021.
Specific reduction goals have not been set for beef and sheep, but the aim that dairy and calf rearing would secure reductions in use of 15 per cent and 25 per cent respectively by 2024 and the pig and gamebird sectors by 30 and 40 per cent.
The latest figures for the pig industry, released by AHDB this week, showed a 5 per cent fall in antibiotic use the first half of the year.
During 2019, antibiotic usage held at 110 mg/PCU due to a spike of swine dysentery cases, but between January 1 and June 30, 2020, antibiotic usage dropped from 110 mg/PCU to 104 mg/PCU, marking a significant step towards the 99 mg/PCU target set in 2017.
For sectors which had already achieved low levels of use, which includes salmon, trout, laying hens and the poultry meat sector, the target was to maintain them.
RUMA special projects co-ordinator Gwyn Jones said: “A tremendous amount has already been achieved but there is clearly the ambition still there from all sectors to take this even further.
“It may appear that the figures appear to be levelling out, but some sectors are already close to the point where they can get without compromising animal welfare, so it is about achieving that balance.”
The Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS 2019) report, also released this week, showed UK antibiotic sales for food-producing animals have halved since 2014, when sales were recorded at 62mg/kg.
There was a slight increase from 29.5mg/kg in 2018 to 31mg/kg in 2019, which was attributed to disease challenges from exceptionally poor weather and novel pathogens.