RUMA: UK livestock sectors are making good progress on antibiotic use targets

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Smederevac
© GettyImages/Smederevac

Related tags Antibiotics RUMA Pig Poultry ruminants

The latest RUMA Targets Task Force report shows that, despite an unprecedented year, UK livestock sectors are making good progress on antibiotic use targets.

The publication​, released today, summarized, the first year’s progress against the second set of antibiotic use targets spanning the years: 2021-2024.

The summary report from the UK based organization, Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), covers ten sectors across aquaculture, pigs, poultry and ruminants. It highlights where targets are already being achieved or sustained, and where challenges remain.

It reveals that for some sectors it is still too early in the four-year targets cycle to provide accurate data, but where data is provided it indicates good first year progress, despite the challenges of the global pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU.

This ‘one year on’ review provides the first annual progress update towards the second set of Targets Task Force (TF2) goals across all UK livestock sectors for data collection, use of antibiotics, uptake of preventative measures such as vaccines and training, and the development of industry initiatives.

The latest targets build on the successful implementation of the last targets released back in 2017 which helped to halve sales of antibiotics to treat UK farm animals and achieve the fifth-lowest usage​ in Europe, with only Nordic markets coming in lower, said RUMA.

ruma poultry report 2021
Poultry data © RUMA Targets Task Force Report 2021

Industry faced with severe challenges 

RUMA noted, however, that the unprecedented nature of the past year has resulted in significant industry challenges including supply chain resource and infrastructure issues, and labor difficulties.

"These unique set of circumstances have had far reaching and varying impacts some of which, are yet to be fully understood across the farming industry and the journey towards the targets.

“As a result of these global and political impacts some sectors such as gamebirds had reduced production and others such as the pig sector, experienced considerable supply chain issues with animals remaining on farm for significantly longer periods of time than normal. This means that some of the figures reported are not representative of a ‘normal’ year of activity.

“In addition, the process the sectors have gone through to work towards their targets has in some cases, also been unavoidably affected and caused delays to the development and launch of key initiatives. It is not yet known the full effect this will have on the targets and how long it will take for these impacts to be felt, understood, and addressed. Equally, the report shows that the onset of environmental issues related to global climate change have had impacts in some sectors too.”

Judicious use of antibiotics 

Cat McLaughlin, RUMA Chair, said it was important to emphasize that the targets are not about driving towards zero antibiotic use. “Antibiotics are needed when necessary as a tool to treat sick animals and to improve and maintain animal welfare. Each sector will ultimately reach a sustainable level below which further reductions could negatively impact animal welfare. For now, efforts to maintain or continue reductions across most sectors are delivering good results, but it is to be expected that usage is beginning to level out or even bounce back a small amount in some cases where sustainable use has been achieved.”

When considering the key challenges that still lie ahead, she said that collation of robust data remains a priority especially in the ruminant sectors.

“Industry level data and figures are essential to illustrate the general direction and provide focus for sector activities, but farm level data is also vital and gives farmers the autonomy to set their own goals and targets to achieve realistic and sustainable levels of responsible use. Equally, we know that global climate change remains an ongoing challenge for agriculture as we move forward.”

UK veterinary antibiotics sales more than halved over the past six years

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s (VMD) Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS 2020) report was also released today; it shows that UK antibiotic sales for food-producing animals have reduced by 52% over the past six years.

Abigail Seager, chief executive of the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), said: “Working closely with the farming industry and the veterinary profession, we have achieved huge reductions in the use of antibiotics since 2014 and we are seeing reductions in resistance as well.

“These successes are testament to the cooperation between farmers and vets in promoting the responsible use of antibiotics.”

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