The recently published Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) ‘Targets Task Force Report 2020’ confirms that sales of antibiotics to treat UK farm animals have halved since 2017.

RUMA is an agricultural and food industry alliance, which promotes responsible use of medicines in farm animals. Its 26 member organisations represent all stages of the animal food chain from ‘farm to fork’ that have an interest in the stewardship of animal medicines in agriculture.

Significantly, the task force report confirms the lowering of overall antibiotic use across UK agriculture and, in particular, that a significant reduction in the use of highest-priority, critically important antibiotics has been categorically achieved.

Animal health and welfare

While the RUMA figures cover the UK as a whole, specific steps are being taken to ensure that Northern Ireland remains fully compliant with all antimicrobial usage targets and policies. The organisation driving this initiative is Animal Health and Welfare NI (AHWNI).

Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) industry development manager Colin Smith is a board member of AHWNI. He commented:

“There is also strong evidence to confirm that livestock farmers in Northern Ireland are doing their part to tackle the challenge of antimicrobial resistance. This is very positive news. However, there is no room for complacency.

The key challenge within the ruminant sectors is that of gathering accurate data on the use of antimicrobials at farm level. However, despite low sample sizes the figures for cattle confirm a significant reduction in antibiotic usage.

Quality assurance

LMC has been instrumental in helping Northern Ireland's beef industry tackle the issue of antimicrobial resistance and to encourage responsible use of antibiotics. A case in point was the introduction of new Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme standards in February 2020.

These were designed to encourage beef and sheep farmers to review and reduce their levels of antimicrobial usage.

Colin Smith continued:

LMC has been working on collating data for the Northern Ireland beef industry on antibiotic usage and is encouraged that overall antibiotic usage reduced by over 50% from 2018 to 2019.

“Similar reduction objectives have been seen for critically important antibiotics. Again, the good news is that Northern Ireland is on track to meet these targets.

“However, this data is based on a sample of approximately 8% of the local cattle population.

“All of this is excellent news; the challenge going forward is to increase the sample size and continue the good work that has been started," Smith concluded.