This week has been World Antibiotics Awareness Week, which aims to highlight the growing public health issue of Antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Recently released data shows that sales of antibiotics for use in animals in the UK are at a four-year low. This puts the UK on track to meet it’s targets to tackle antibiotic resistance, according to DEFRA. Overall sales by weight dropped by 9% from 2014 to 2015, while sales for use in food-producing animals dropped 10% from 62 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) to 56mg/kg. This continues a ten-year downward trend and puts the UK on track to reach its 50mg/kg target by 2018. As well as the overall reduction, there is a drop in sales of the highest priority antibiotics that are critically important for humans. Sales of these made up just over 1% of all antibiotics sold for use in animals in 2015.
The poultry meat sector almost halved its use of critically important antibiotics from 2012 to 2015 by improving training, stewardship, stock-manship and disease control. The UK pig industry has also launched a successful online system to record, benchmark and control antibiotic use, which already contains data for millions of pigs. The UK is one of just 89 countries which have a system in place to collect data on antibiotic use in livestock, and no standardized global data on antibiotic use in livestock exists.
The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Nigel Gibbens, said:
“The UK is making good progress in the fight against AMR and it is particularly encouraging to see how engaged and committed the industry is to this cause.”
The data was published days after a group of UK doctors published called for a complete ban on the routine use of antibiotics in UK livestock. The campaign group Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), which includes the National Farmers Union among its members, said a ban could harm animal welfare. RUMA believes vets end up prescribing more antibiotics if they don’t act to prevent infection and a whole herd is then affected.
Much is still not known about the spread of antibiotic resistance. According a recent FAO report “Drivers, Dynamics and Epidemiology of Antimicrobial Resistance in Animal Production” – it is now accepted that increased antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in bacteria affecting humans and animals in recent decades is primarily influenced by an increase in usage of anti-microbials for a variety of purposes including livestock. direct evidence linking AMR emergence in humans to food consumption is lacking. The impact of different farming systems is also unclear, while some studies have shown reduced levels of AMR on organic farms, a high prevalence of multi-drug-resistant (MDR) Campylobacter strains has been detected in organic pig farms in the US even in the absence of antimicrobial usage (AMU).
Reducing antibiotic use is not without economic costs, and many consider them a vital tool to ensure the health and welfare of animals, as well as efficient animal protein production. A complete ban on antibiotic use in livestock is likely to be impractical, however it is clear that better management and more responsible use of antibiotics can reduce overall use, and can go some way to slow the development of resistance.