The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has called for the Government to better empower farmers to lower antibiotic use on farms, suggesting measures such as incentivising better animal husbandry and biosecurity.

The BVA’s updated position on responsible antimicrobial use in food-producing animals expands on the association's existing antimicrobial resistance policies.

It proposes 15 overarching recommendations on responsible antimicrobial stewardship for vets, farmers and government.

94% of vets in large animal and mixed practices told a recent BVA survey they were concerned about antimicrobial resistance.

More than nine out of 10 added that they feared the potential inability to treat infections.

The BVA’s position reiterates that critically-important antibiotics should remain available for veterinary use in the interests of animal welfare.

However, it calls on vets to restrict their use as a last resort, where no other product will be effective for the condition being treated.

Other recommendations include:

  • Vets should familiarise themselves with the antimicrobial reduction targets for their sector and continue to work with farmers and stock keepers to achieve these;
  • Farm assurance schemes should incorporate responsible use of antimicrobials as a scheme requirement;
  • The Government should promote incentives to improve husbandry and biosecurity measures on-farm;
  • The development of effective diagnostic tools - for culture, sensitivity and monitoring for resistance genes - must be prioritised and there should be a greater focus on improving surveillance and information sharing;
  • The Government should promote incentives to improve husbandry and biosecurity measures on-farm;
  • The Government should continue to work with vets and industry to review and set further rational targets through the RUMA Targets Task Force.

The BVA’s recommendations come amid a global push to protect antimicrobials for the sake of animal and human health.

The issue has been highlighted in both the UK Government’s 20-year vision and new five-year national action plan and the recent UN Interagency Coordinating Group report.

British Veterinary Association president Simon Doherty said: “Antimicrobial resistance is an issue of critical importance to society as a whole and BVA is committed to providing leadership on the issue.

“Ongoing work by vets, farmers and industry through the RUMA Targets Task Force has led to a 40% reduction in sales of antibiotics meant for use in food-producing animals over the last five years, with sales of the highest priority critically-important antibiotics dropping by 52% in this period.

"We must maintain this momentum in the face of the ongoing global threat posed by antimicrobial resistance.

“Farmers and stock keepers play a huge role in developing and applying disease control measures on farms in collaboration with their vet.

The Agriculture Bill provides an opportunity to further incentivise and empower farmers to work with their vets to ensure responsible antimicrobial use.

"The BVA will continue working with our specialist divisions and all key stakeholders to build upon current achievements. We currently chair the UK One Health Coordination Group, which includes stakeholders representing human, animal and environmental health and welfare interests.”

“A collaborative approach to AMR [antimicrobial resistance], underpinned by a commitment from each of us to maintain the highest standards of stewardship in using antimicrobials - especially critically-important antibiotics - is the only way we can preserve these essential medicines for both humans and animals in the future.”