The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) alliance has described a 10% reduction in sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals in the UK as “very encouraging”.

John FitzGerald: "We are delighted to see the hard work... is already paying off."
John FitzGerald: “We are delighted to see the hard work… is already paying off.”

The newly issued 2015 antibiotic sales data for animals, reported by the VMD, revealed a reduction in average sales from 62mg per population correction unit (PCU – equivalent to kg) to 56mg/PCU.

It also indicates a fall in sales of some critically important antibiotics, namely 3% in fluoroquinolones, 11% in third generation cephalosporins and a 9% drop in tonnes of antibiotics used.

‘Complex challenge’

RUMA secretary general John FitzGerald said: “We are delighted to see the hard work taking place in the farming industry over the past couple of years is already paying off.

“This is a complex challenge and it’s a fine balance to reduce and refine use of antibiotics without compromising animal welfare. These results bode well for the 2016 figures as momentum builds in tackling the challenge of antibiotic resistance in farm animals.”

Of particular note, said Mr FitzGerald, is a 23-tonne (10%) reduction in sales of products licensed for both pigs and poultry, and 16-tonne (24%) fall in pig-only products.

He added, despite the reductions, populations of resistant bacteria monitored by the VMD appear relatively static.

No increased risk to humans

Furthermore, an apparent increase in pig samples testing positive for the extended spectrum beta-lactamase Escherichia coli bacteria, that transfer resistance, is due to a change in testing methodology. Parallel testing using the previous method showed little change from two years ago when it was last the turn of the pig sector to be tested.

Mr FitzGerald said: “This means we are not seeing any increased risk to humans from transmission of antimicrobial resistance through food, and good kitchen hygiene rules still apply – washing hands after handling raw meat and thorough cooking of meat will almost completely prevent the transmission of resistant bacteria.

“However, these findings do highlight the challenge; tackling antibiotic resistance is going to take more than just a reduction in use – we need a multi-faceted approach, which includes strategic use of a range of medicines to reduce and eliminate disease pressure while we also increase inherent immunity to disease among our farm animals.”

In response to the O’Neill report released in May 2016, RUMA established a task force of researchers, farming organisations, farmers and practising vets, which will work alongside the VMD to identify objectives for each farming sector towards reducing and refining antibiotics. The group is due to report its recommendations in 2017.

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