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Massive fall in animal antibiotic use

Ministers says reduction will help combat rising rates of antibiotic resistance

Mark Gould

Friday, 27 October 2017

Sales of antibiotics for use in animals in the UK have fallen to their lowest level since records began, exceeding a government target to combat the threat of antibiotic resistance (AMR) two years early.

A report* by the Department for Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra), released today, shows sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals dropped by 27%, from 62 mg/kg in 2014 to 45mg/kg in 2016, surpassing a government target of 50 mg/kg set following recommendations in the 2016 O’Neill Review on Antimicrobial Resistance.

As well as the overall reduction, the report shows a further drop in sales of the highest priority antibiotics that are critically important for humans. Sales of these accounted for less than 1% of all antibiotics sold for use in animals in 2016. This included an 83% reduction in the use of Colistin, an antibiotic of last resort for use in people.

Colistin is now at an already very low level of use, 0.02mg/kg, putting it considerably below the European Medicines Agency’s target of 1mg/kg.

Defra says antibiotic resistance is a major threat to modern medicine with estimates suggesting it could be responsible for ten million deaths per year by 2050 and cost the global economy $100 trillion.

In 2013, the UK government launched a strategy to reduce the development and spread of antibiotic resistance in animals and humans. As part of the strategy, the government has provided expert advice to the farming industry and veterinary profession, encouraging more responsible use of antibiotics to safeguard them for the future.

The UK’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: "Drug resistant superbugs are not just a problem confined to human health—it is an issue that spans humans, animals and the environment, so we must take a One Health approach to address it. If we act in isolation, we will fail.

"This is a commendable achievement from our agricultural and veterinary sector to reduce the inappropriate use of antibiotics. It shows the entire world what can be done when we join forces and work with focus and passion.

"But we cannot rest on our laurels. This progress demonstrates the commitment is there, but we need to build on this momentum and continue to do more, in every sector, and in every country, to stay ahead of superbugs."

Later today, a task force established by the industry alliance Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) will publish robust targets on antibiotic use to show how each farming sector will build on the progress made to date.

* UK – Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance Report. Veterinary Medicines Directorate, October 2017

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