The latest official statistics confirm that antibiotic usage within UK agriculture fell by 50% between 2014 and 2022.

The actual sales figures are 446t in 2014 versus 269t in 2020.

Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) agriculture spokesperson, Tom Elliott has welcomed this trend, given the beneficial impact it will have on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) levels.  

He said: “There is an emergence and spread of drug-resistant organisms, which is largely due to the over-use and inappropriate use of antibiotics in both humans and animals. 

“AMR is one of the most serious threats to health across the world. New infection strains emerge that cannot be killed by particular antibiotics.

“The five-year action plan on tackling antimicrobial resistance in Northern Ireland states that if we cannot develop new drugs that can treat the infections caused by resistant organisms by the year 2050, we can expect about 10 million deaths per year, worldwide, from drug-resistant infections.

Antibiotic usage

According to the UUP representative, one of the main drivers of the emergence and spread of drug-resistant organisms is the over-use and inappropriate use of antibiotics in both humans and animals. 

“While I don’t have specific figures for Northern Ireland’s agricultural sector, it is welcome news that there has been a 50% reduction in antibiotic ingredient sales in the UK over a recent six year period,” Elliott said. 

He stressed that AMR is an area where all livestock farmers and veterinary practitioners can assist, which also helps to save financial outlay for such products in the process.

He recently submitted a question to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland, querying two specific issues: What steps have been taken to reduce the use of antibiotics in farming?; and has there been any decline in antimicrobial usage over the last three years? 

By way of reply, a DAERA spokesperson confirmed the launch of the aforementioned five-year action plan to fight AMR, adding: “DAERA’s specific actions within the plan include a reduction in the need for antimicrobials by lowering the burden of animal infection through implementation of strategies to reduce endemic disease, including the Bovine Viral Diarrhoea eradication scheme and the promotion of good farm biosecurity practices.

“Another specific action will be that of optimising the use of antimicrobials in animals and agriculture, e.g., through the provision of responsible use of antimicrobials training to over 11,000 farm business members.”

Other steps envisaged by DAERA include further innovation being brought to bear through the funding of a series of projects.

These including the Strategic Action on Antimicrobial Usage and Whole Genome Sequencing initiatives, the findings from which will be used to inform future formulation of policy and action on AMR.