The use of antibiotics in livestock in the UK has decreased again, according to a report released by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) yesterday, Tuesday, November 9.

In the last six years (2014-2020) the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals has dropped by 52%. This, according to the VMD, means that the UK has one of the lowest levels of antibiotic use in Europe.

In 2020, 188.8t (84%) of antibiotic sales were attributed to products licensed for food-producing animal species only. This is a 2.4t increase since 2019, largely due to a 2t increase in products authorised for fish.

Sales of products licensed for pigs and/or poultry and multiple food-producing animals also increased slightly (by 0.5t and 0.6t respectively) whereas products licensed for cattle decreased by 0.8t.

Overall, since 2018, sales of dry and lactating cow products have reduced by 0.16 course doses (25%) and 0.27 course doses (34%.)

The average course dose in this instance is four tubes/dry cow and three tubes/lactating cows.

However, between 2019 and 2020 there was an increase of 0.04 doses; 2020 saw availability issue; with lactating cow intra-mammary products which may have affected product choice.

Antibiotic use by sector

  • Broilers: Total usage reduced by 1.2mg/kg between 2019 and 2020 to 16.3mg/kg, and usage has now reduced 67% since 2014. HP-C I A (highest priority critically important antibiotic) use was 0.001 mg/kg;
  • Pigs: Total usage reduces by 5.5mg/kg between 2019 and 2020 to 105mg/kg, and usage has now reduced 62% since 2015. There was a slight (0.01mg/kg) increase in HP-C I A use since 2019, although this has still reduced 95% since 2015. The sector also demonstrated an ongoing shift away from in-feed medication towards in-water;
  • Turkeys: Total usage reduced by 16.3mg/kg to 25.7mg/kg, which represents an 88% reduction since 2014. HP-C I A use also dropped from 0.11 mg/kg to 0.08 mg/kg;
  • Ducks: Total usage increased by 0.9mg/kg to 2.6 mg/kg since 2019. No HP[1]C I As were used by the sector;
  • Gamebirds: Usage dropped by 4.4t (43%) to 6.0t of active ingredient since 2019. However, it should be noted that, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the industry estimate that gamebird rearing reduced by 30% in 2020, which will explain some of the reduction in usage. Nonetheless, relative use of HP-C I As reduced from 0.6% active ingredient in 2019 to 0.4% in 2020. The sector also demonstrates an ongoing shift away from in-feed medication towards in-water;
  • Fish: Both trout and salmon saw increases, since 2019, of 4.2mg/kg and 15.8mg/kg respectively.

Chief veterinary officer Christin Middlemiss commented on the report:

“This year’s VARSS (Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance) report shows how the UK continues to make important reductions in antibiotic use in livestock across the board,” she said.

The UK-Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS) annual report shows the second lowest-recorded amount of antibiotics sold for use in food-producing animals, at 30.1mg/kg - less than half the levels recorded in 2014.

It is encouraging to see farmers and vets continuing to work together to tackle antibiotic resistance through the responsible use of antibiotics, which in turn protects human health as well as reducing the burden of disease in animals,” said Middlemiss.

Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is recognised as one of the biggest threats to both human and animal health on a global level, and the main driver of AMR is antibiotic use.

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