New four-year antibiotic targets announced for UK livestock sectors

New targets for the responsible use of antibiotics in UK farm animals over the next four years have been released today by a task force of leading vets and farmers.

The new goals, facilitated by RUMA and set out in the ‘Targets Task Force Report 2020’, build on the successful implementation of the last targets released in 2017 across most sectors.

The report, launched alongside the Veterinary Medicine Directorate’s (VMD) release of antibiotic sales data for 2019, covers 10 sectors across aquaculture, pigs, poultry and ruminants.

The targets, released on European Antibiotic Awareness Day, include a further 30% reduction in overall antibiotic use in the pig sector by 2024, following the dramatic reduction from average use of 278mg/PCU in 2015 to 104mg/PCU in the first half of 2020, as measured by the AHDB electronic medicines book (eMB-Pigs).

The pig sector will also be identifying and supporting reductions among farmers identified as persistently high users of antibiotics and promoting best-practice guidelines to reduce post-weaning diarrhoea, a common cause of antibiotic use, among other non-numerical targets.

For the first time, calf rearing is examined in isolation in order to focus in on the specific health and welfare interventions that will reduce the need for antibiotic treatments.

However, while the pig sector has pioneered antibiotic data collection, RUMA chair Cat McLaughlin?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? said the overall picture in terms of use in the large and diverse cattle and sheep sectors is still lacking. Targets for 2024 therefore include the collection of data into the new AHDB Medicine Hub, a UK centralised database for ruminants.

Targets across the ruminant sectors also include a focus on disease prevention and herd and flock health planning, with plans to develop a new network of ‘Farm Vet Champions’. While specific reduction goals have not been set for beef and sheep, there is an aim that dairy and calf rearing will secure reductions in use of 15% and 25% respectively across the national herd by 2024 as data become available.

There is a goal to reduce antibiotic usage in gamebirds by 40% by 2024, with the sector focusing on improved practices, research into disease and farm assurance. The poultry meat and trout sectors achieved significant reductions in recent years, and join laying hens and salmon in opting to hold their targets at current levels.

Preventative use has been phased out completely in these sectors, meaning many animals receive no antibiotic treatments at all in their lifetime.


The first set of antibiotic targets, announced in 2017, have helped to halve sales of antibiotics to treat UK farm animals, with the UK now the fifth-lowest user in Europe, with only Nordic countries lower, and the lowest among the major livestock-producing countries.

With over 75% of the original targets now achieved early or on track to be achieved by the December 2020 deadline, the time is right to ‘reset’ in some sectors with refreshed challenges for the next four years, Ms McLaughlin said.

“The UK farming industry has responded extremely well to the targets. Our original aim of lowering overall antibiotic use, and in particular highest-priority critically important antibiotics (HP-CIAs), has been categorically achieved in the face of some challenging external conditions,” she said.

“Most sectors are now capturing data on antibiotic use across 90% or more of their sector which has been a key part of the success.

“Even where usage data is lacking but good sales data are available, for example in cattle and sheep, sizeable reductions have been achieved especially in sales of HP-CIAs.”

VMD chief executiveProfessor Peter Borriello welcomed the report, confirming that the UK livestock sectors already have good progress behind them. “The ambition now outlined in this report, alongside the proactive, holistic approaches and focus on behaviour change principles gives me every confidence that they will once again succeed,” he says.

The VMD’s Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (UK-VARSS 2019) report, also released today, shows that UK antibiotic sales for food-producing animals have halved since 2014, when sales were recorded at 62 mg/kg.

However, there was a slight increase from 29.5 mg/kg in 2018 to 31.0 mg/kg in 2019, predominantly due to disease challenges from exceptionally poor weather and novel pathogens, but the VMD stressed that use was still historically low and below 2017 levels.

Just as significantly, the report showed that sales of HP-CIAs in food-producing animals dropped from 0.21mg/kg in 2018 to 0.17 mg/kg (21%) in 2019.

The report also shows levels resistance among pathogens from farm animal and animal products, a key aim of antibiotic stewardship, are largely stabilising or reducing. In an EU report published earlier in 2020, the UK reported some of the best results in reducing incidence of antibiotic resistance among pathogens from farm animal and animal products.

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