Antibiotic use & antimicrobial resistance
The UK has among the lowest sales of antibiotics to treat farm animals in Europe
The UK has successfully reduced sales of antibiotics to treat food-producing animals by 50% in recent years, and has among the lowest sales in Europe. This is thanks to an enormous industry effort spearheaded by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance and its work co-ordinating a Targets Task Force of leading farmers and vets from across 10 different livestock sectors.
However, this reduction relates to sales of products, many of which are licensed for use in multiple species. This means that actual use in each sector can only be determined by capturing actual prescription or usage data. But while pig, poultry and aquaculture sectors capture antibiotic data for over 90 per cent of production, the large and complex dairy, beef and sheep sectors have struggled to evidence responsible use due to lack of this type of national-level data.
Measuring antibiotic use
To support the UK cattle and sheep sectors in measuring use of antibiotics more accurately, CHAWG and SHAWG developed measurement metrics for use of antibiotics on-farm. These metrics can be found on the RUMA website under ‘Measuring Antibiotic Use‘. However, the challenge remains as to how we collate usage nationally to prove how responsibly these products are being used in the dairy, beef and sheep sectors.
The Medicine Hub
The industry-led Medicine Hub – developed by AHDB – plans to address this. With unprecedented farm-to-fork support, it offers a safe, secure and independent central repository to collate, report and compare antibiotic data from a variety of sources, including on-farm farm use and datasets from vets and processors.
The Medicine Hub is also developing interfaces to transfer in data collected by the Welsh Lamb & Beef Producers antimicrobial use calculator app and the STAMP antimicrobial usage benchmarking tool in Northern Ireland. In addition to this, Quality Meat Scotland’s commitment to promoting good antibiotic stewardship includes mandatory collation of antibiotic data to contribute to national recording.
Both BCVA and the Sheep Veterinary Society have promoted the Medicine Hub in recent months. Registering farm clients will now be an important first step towards demonstrating the success of a wide range of antibiotic stewardship activities undertaken in these sectors over the past five years.
BCVA board member and cattle vet Rachel Hayton, who chairs the Medicine Hub’s industry liaison group and will be speaking about it at the Congress, says it will take time for the Medicine Hub to fully evolve – but the information it eventually provides will be invaluable for many reasons.
“We need to consider UK producers’ reputation and accountability, and meet new national antibiotic use targets agreed by vets and producers through the RUMA Targets Task Force in November 2020,” she explains.
“We know both vets and farmers have been committed to raising the bar on responsible use of antibiotics – we want them to be able to prove this!”
In addition to meeting national targets, Rachel says UK farmers and vets need to consider EU rule changes, with member countries having to provide information on antibiotic use in cattle from 2023 and sheep from 2026.
“This will apply to Northern Ireland directly, but the other three nations indirectly too as they seek trade deals with the EU.
“Vets, as the prescribers and gatekeepers of antibiotics, have a huge role to play in this, which is why we’re asking cattle vets to step up now and be part of developing this hugely exciting platform. Knowing the whole industry is behind this should give vets and farmers alike a huge boost!”
Rachel adds that some vet and producer groups, especially in the dairy sector, are already collating and comparing data. “Subject to data permissions, we are aiming for these private datasets to be incorporated into the Medicine Hub without duplication on the part of the farmer.
“The Medicine Hub will eventually offer everyone with antibiotic data, whether a single farmer, software company, or consultancy with thousands of records, the chance to benchmark their records against the national dataset.”
To find out more about the Medicine Hub and to get registered, please go to www.medicinehub.org.uk.