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New targets to encourage the responsible use of antibiotics in UK livestock have been agreed by farmers and veterinary experts for the next four...

New targets to encourage the responsible use of antibiotics in UK livestock have been agreed by farmers and veterinary experts for the next four years.

The new goals build on the successful implementation of the last targets released in 2017. Overall, these have helped to halve sales of antibiotics to treat UK farm animals and achieve the fifth-lowest usage in Europe, with only Nordic countries lower.

While specific reduction goals have not been set for beef and sheep, the aim is that the dairy and calf rearing sectors will reduce usage by 15% and 25% respectively across the national herd by 2024 as data become available.

Other sectors aiming to reduce antibiotics as a result of farm-level interventions include the pig sector. It plans to decrease usage by a further 30% by 2024 – with the gamebird sector aiming for a 40% reduction.

Refreshed challenge

Details of the targets are included in a report by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance. It represents all stages of the animal food chain from farm to fork that have an interest in the stewardship of animal medicines in agriculture.

The report covers 10 sectors across aquaculture, pigs, poultry and ruminants. 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.

With over 75% of the original targets now achieved early or on track to be achieved by the deadline, the time was right to set refreshed challenges for the next four years, says RUMA chair Cat McLaughlin.

“The UK farming industry has responded extremely well to the targets,” she explained.

“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.”

Sizeable reductions

Most farmed livestock sectors are now capturing data on antibiotic use across 90% or more of their animal. Even where usage data is lacking but good sales data are available, for example in cattle and sheep, sizeable reductions have been achieved.

But Ms McLaughlin says the overall picture in terms of use in the large and diverse cattle and sheep sectors is still lacking. This is why targets for 2024 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.

Among other activities, the pig sector is promoting best-practice guidelines to reduce post-weaning diarrhoea, a common cause of antibiotic use, and will be identifying and supporting reductions among any farmers using higher levels of antibiotics within the sector.

The poultry meat sector has achieved significant reductions in recent years, and joins laying hens in hold their targets at current levels. Preventative use has been phased out completely.