The UK’s pig and poultry sectors are at the forefront of the UK’s success in reducing antibiotic use in farm producing species. The 2018 figures, released at the end of October (UK VARSS report), show an amazing 53 % reduction from 2014 levels.


Figure 1: Overall trends in mg/kg (food producing- animals). Source ( surveillance-2018)

There are many factors that have contributed to this reduction, these include:

o RUMA’s leadership in coordinating an integrated industry strategy
o The Poultry industry leading the way in 2012 (80% reduction since then)
o 89% of pigs covered in the e-medicine book data.
o Benchmarking individual farm use data, with regular reviews with farm vetso Increasing use of vaccination

Equally important was the 68 % reduction in the use of critically important antibiotics over the same period, and encouragingly, there are signs that antibiotic resistance is starting to improve. UK farm animals now accounts for only 30% of the total UK antibiotic use, and it is notable that, on a mg/kg basis, companion animals have over twice the usage rates than UK farm animals

A detailed look at the sector figures show that some species have slightly increased usage in 2018, especially ones that have previously made huge reductions. This may be because there was an increased disease challenge in 2018 due to a changing climate, and it is best practice to follow themantra “as little as possible and as much as necessary”. It may also be the case that many of the easy wins have already occurred with improved stewardship. Future reductions will be centred more on disease prevention, improved biosecurity, improved animal wellbeing and earlier disease detection. There is certainly a positive change in seeing the value of the veterinary relationship with farmers being one of health consultancy and disease prevention rather than just treatment.


Figure 2: Antibiotic usage by food-producing animal species. Source ( surveillance-2018)

A disappointing aspect to the recent figures is the comparatively low percentage coverage of the data in the dairy and beef sectors and absence of sheep data. It is essential that these sectors catch up with leadership shown by the poultry, pig and fish sectors.

Innovation for Agriculture has a leading role in a European project on antibiotic reduction, DISARM. The DISARM Community of Practice is a web-based community that brings together farmers, veterinarians, industry, farm advisors, and researchers to combine their respective expertise on how to reduce antibiotic resistance by reducing the need for antibiotics in livestock farming, focusing on disease prevention and prudent use of antibiotics. Members of this community share best practices, and the challenges, benefits and drawbacks of implementing different measures.Together we will develop information resources demonstrating innovative strategies to support farmers in addressing the challenges faced in reducing antibiotic resistance on farms through research, technology and best practice as they strive towards improving animal health and wellbeing.

Written by Richard Lloyd, Precision Livestock manager. For more information on this article, contact