New figures show the use of farm antibiotics in animals across Europe has fallen by 2.4%, but average use is three times higher than recommended in the O‘Neill Review.

The sixth “European surveillance of veterinary antimicrobial consumption” (ESVAC) report from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has shown use of antibiotics in Europe remains more than twice as high in animals as in humans.

EMA reportThe reduction in antibiotic usage has been welcomed by the International Federation for Animal Health Europe (IFAH-Europe), but condemned by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics (ASOA) – a coalition of health, medical, environmental and animal welfare groups campaigning to stop the overuse of antibiotics in farming.

‘Continued failure’

ASOA spokesman Cóilín Nunan said: “The shocking overuse of farm antibiotics shown by these data is a result of the continued failure by most countries to ban routine preventive mass medication in intensive farming.

“Spain uses 100 times more antibiotics per unit of livestock than Norway, 80 times more than Iceland and 35 times more than Sweden. The main reason for the difference is Spain, like most of Europe, allows routine mass medication, whereas Nordic countries do not.

“The increased use of last resort and critically important antibiotics is particularly alarming and confirms reliance on voluntary and softly-softly approaches is not working.”

O’Neill target

The latest ESVAC data relates to 2014. In a written statement, the ASOA said: “The O’Neill Review on antimicrobial resistance, commissioned by the UK Government, recommended high-income countries should aim for a short-term target of 50mg of antibiotic per kg of livestock. However, the EMA shows the average European level of use is more than three times higher at 152mg/kg.

“In the 25 European countries that provided comparable data, sales of farm antibiotics per unit of livestock went down by just 2% in 2014 compared with 2013. If small annual reductions of just 2% are maintained, it will take 65 years for Europe to reach the O’Neill target.”

IFAH-Europe welcomed the ESVAC report as: “An important demonstration of transparency of antibiotic use in animals in line with the European Commission’s ‘Action plan against the rising threats from antimicrobial resistance’.”

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