The role of farmers against antimicrobial resistance

Monday, 6 November, 2017


Commodity Watch - Written by UFU Senior Policy Officer, Dr Geoff Thompson

In recent years, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been a subject becoming increasingly important within human and animal health. In 2016, the O’Neill Review suggested that over 700,000 human deaths per year can be attributed to AMR globally and that this figure could reach as many as 10 million per year by 2050 if action is not taken. Many governments and health organisations have sought to promote the idea of a ‘One Health’ culture which advocates that the health and wellbeing of humans is intrinsically connected to the health of the animals that we eat and the environment in which we live. As such, both human and animal medicine have an important role to play in order to ensure the continued efficacy of the antibiotics which humans and animals occasionally rely upon. 

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) has been engaging with industry in attempts to improve animal health, thereby reducing the need to use antibiotics in UK agriculture. Last week the UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate announced that sales of antibiotics for use in animals has fallen to its lowest level on record. The figures revealed a 27% reduction from 62 mg/kg in 2014 to 45 mg/kg in 2016, surpassing a government target of reducing usage to less than 50 mg/kg two years early. Further to this, sales of the highest-priority antibiotics, i.e. those considered to be critically important for human health accounted for less than 1% of all antibiotics sold for use in animals.

Whilst tremendous progress has been made, particularly in the poultry sector which has seen antibiotic usage fall by over 71% over the last 5 years, industry remains committed to finding new ways to further reduce, refine or replace antibiotic use across all key livestock sectors. RUMA has targeted a 10% reduction in antibiotic usage in the beef and sheep sectors. Whilst already low users, the targets task force has identified some areas for improvement such as eradicating BVD, controlling respiratory diseases, reducing lameness, abortions and neonatal lamb disease such as watery mouth and joint ill. Within the dairy sector, RUMA is targeting a 20% reduction with a particular focus on halving the use of the highest priority antibiotics. Priorities are around eliminating BVD, reducing digital dermatitis and antibiotic dry cow therapy and cutting back on group treatments such as antibiotic footbaths for lameness instead focusing on individually targeted treatments. The pig sector has set itself an ambitious target of a 60% reduction in usage by 2020. It already made a huge jump from 2015 to 2016 with usage falling by 35%. Continued improvements are being sought by increased usage of vaccinations, a move away from in-feed medication to more targeted water-based or systemic treatments and continued monitoring and benchmarking between farmers via the electronic Medicine Book (eMB). Within all of these targets is firm emphasis that ‘prevention is better than cure’ and to seek good health and welfare of animals, resulting in lower illness, lower antibiotic usage and ultimately greater profit for the producer.