Representation and Education

Cattle vets welcome success in meeting antibiotic use targets

The British Cattle Veterinary Association welcomed the news that the UK livestock sectors have successfully embraced the responsible use of antibiotics, when Board members attended a meeting for the Veterinary Medicine Directorate’s (VMD) release of antibiotic sales figures and resistance for 2019.

With reduced levels of antibiotic resistance the objective of improved stewardship, the UK-VARSS (UK Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance Report) report 2019 shows antibiotic resistance largely stabilising over the two year period of monitoring and many veterinary pathogens, especially respiratory pathogens, remain susceptible to licensed veterinary antibiotics. 

The data shows that HP-CIA’s now only account for 0.5% of overall antibiotic usage in food producing animals in the UK through 2019, and this has fallen a phenomenal 74% compared with sales in 2015. 

“The cattle sector will have contributed to these reductions in both injectable and intramammary HP-CIA’s” says BCVA President, Nikki Hopkins. “Every time we, as farm vets, have clinically administered or prescribed antibiotics and we have consciously made that decision to change the class of antibiotic we have used, then every single one of us will have contributed to these figures and we should be extremely proud.”

More specifically, sales data has shown a 63% reduction in the sales of injectable HP-CIA’s and an 82% reduction in the sales of intramammary HP-CIA’s (3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins and fluroquinolones) since 2017.  Beta Lactams (not including 3rd or 4th generation cephalosporins) and Tetracyclines now represent the most frequently used class of antibiotics on beef and dairy farms in the UK. 


Within Europe, the UK is the 5th lowest user of antibiotics in livestock for the second year running, (based on 2018 sales data), with only the Nordic countries coming in higher. Some of those countries have legislative powers in place, and the UK has reduced use largely on a voluntary basis, alongside industry initiatives like Milksure, BVD schemes, mastitis control plans and standards set by farm assurance schemes. 

Cat McLaughlin, Chair of Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), told the group of leading vets and farmers this week, “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. 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.” 


All figures have indicated that beef, dairy and calf rearing enterprises have come in below the set target of 50mg/kg of population correction unit (PCU). New targets for the sector will be set by the Target Task Force to ensure that we continue to re-evaluate and improve. 

“As farm vets we know that antibiotics are essential for treating some diseases and, as others have said, it is not a race to zero” says Nikki Hopkins. “We would never want to compromise cattle health or welfare by not being able to prescribe and use antibiotics when they are needed. I know from personal experience that some of these culture changes have not been easy and often have involved difficult or challenging conversations with clients. But every time we carry out disease investigations, advise on management and husbandry changes, and implement vaccinations programmes if appropriate, we will be actively helping to reach the new targets and preserving antibiotics for the future.” 

It would be fair to say that the UK ruminant sector has struggled somewhat with data collection compared to some other sectors. Figures have largely been produced from veterinary sales data that has been collated by the VMD and the dairy sector antibiotic usage data has been collected from herds that represent 34% of UK dairy cattle in the Farmvet Systems Samples.

Farms with multiple species also present a challenge in accurate data collection. We must also accept that disease pictures on farms are not always static, and not be disheartened when we have slight increases in antibiotic sales figures, as seen in 2019 when sales figures rose to 31mg/kg; this represents a 5% increase from 2018. 

“We know there will be some challenges in how we go forward from here, but BCVA are looking forward to working with the roll out of the Medicines Hub from 2021, which should be a key part in better and therefore more accurate data collection from the cattle sector. We are also excited about working with the Antibiotic Champion Scheme and being able to engage all farm vets in responsible antibiotic use. We also intend to further support our members with more access to training and CPD, such as the Quarter Pro Mastitis modules. Everyone can play their part and these figures show what the farm animal profession can do on a voluntary basis when they pull together. It’s our moral responsibility as MRCVS, who hold the right to prescribe, to do it right.”

Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance 2019 Report
New antibiotic targets for UK farm animals build on previous success

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