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Home > News > UK livestock antibiotic usage falls to record low, as pig sector makes good progress towards targets

UK livestock antibiotic usage falls to record low, as pig sector makes good progress towards targets

1st Nov 2023 / By Alistair Driver

Sales of veterinary antibiotics in the UK have fallen to the lowest level ever recorded, driven partly by reductions in pig sector usage.

Antibiotic useThe Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s (VMD) latest UK-Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (VARSS) report shows sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals fell by nearly 10% in 2022 to 25.7mg/kg PCU. This represents a 59% reduction on the 2014 figure of 62.5mg/kg.

Sales of Highest Priority Important Antibiotics (HP-CIAs) in food-producing animals remain at very low levels at 0.12mg/kg in 2022 and account for less than 0.5% of total sales.

In terms of pig sector antibiotic usage, figures collated on the eMB-Pigs database and published earlier this year shoq a further 18% reduction in 2022 to below 72mg/kg PCU, representing a massive reduction on the 2015 figure of 278mg/kg PCU.

Use of Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics in pigs fell again, from 0.03 to 0.01mg/kg PCU with no use of colistin recorded. 

Pig sector antibiotic usage 2022The report also highlights a positive picture for antimicrobial resistance (AMR) across several key outcome indicators, including decreasing resistance in the indicator bacteria E. coli. These overall downward trends in resistance accompany the overall downward trends in UK veterinary antibiotic consumption, it said.

The VMD described antimicrobial resistance (AMR) said the report published demonstrates the UK’s commitment to surveillance of antibiotic use in order to better understand and mitigate the risks of AMR.

NPA comment 

NPA senior policy adviser Katie Jarvis said: ““Pig producers have continued to make responsible reductions in the use of antibiotics despite the difficulties faced by the sector over the last two years, which is testament to their dedication.

"Concerns remain that the removal of zinc oxide could impact pig health and result in producers having no choice but to increase the use antibiotics as a tool for managing post-weaning diarrhoea.

"However, ongoing learning and exchange of information in this area have had a positive impact and demonstrate the commitment of the industry in continuing to reduce antibiotic use where possible.”


Abi Seager, Veterinary Medicines Directorate CEO said: “I’m encouraged that our vets and farmers continue to make reductions in their antibiotic prescribing and use. We are continuing to expand monitoring to build upon our current knowledge and control the spread of AMR to strengthen the UK’s biosecurity.”

UK Chief Veterinary Officer Christine Middlemiss said: “This year’s UK-VARSS report shows how collaborative working between government and industry is effective in reducing unnecessary antibiotic use.

“It is important that we maintain and build upon this positive progress and so I encourage vets and animal owners to continue to support the UK’s 20-year vision to contain and control AMR.”

Target progress

The UK pig sector is continuing to make good progress towards its latest set of antibiotic targets, according to an update published also today by the RUMA Targets Task Force 2 (TTF2).

However, this progress could be challenged, as the final stocks of zinc oxide for medicinal use in piglet diets are depleted, it warns.

RUMA’s latest progress report summarises the third year of progress against the current set of antibiotic use targets which span 2021-2024.

The RUMA report highlights where targets are already being achieved or sustained, and where challenges still remain across the sectors.

The 2022 data shows the pig sector has achieved an overall 74% reduction in antibiotic use since 2015, taking the sector below the RUMA Targets Task Force 2 target, of a 30% reduction in total use by 2024 from the 2020 baseline.

“Meeting the target early is a reflection of the extended use of zinc oxide manufactured before the withdrawal of its Marketing Authorisation (MA) as permitted by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD),” the RUMA report noted.

“The supply of zinc oxide is close to depletion and it is anticipated that some producers will be unable to find a solution for post-weaning diarrhoea that works for their unit with the current tools available. These producers are likely to be compelled to manage the health and welfare of their pigs post-weaning through the use of antibiotics to treat clinical disease, as has been the case in some EU countries that have already lost the use of zinc oxide.”

The report sets out positive progress towards other pig sector targets, including introducing a programme Introduce a programme supporting persistently high users of antibiotics to reduce their usage and reviewing and increasing medicines training update.

Positive year

The RUMA TTF2 summary report updates annual progress on targets in 10 sectors across aquaculture, pigs, poultry and ruminants. Overall, the report welcomes ‘yet another positive year for UK agriculture in the responsible use of antibiotics’, with the targets continuing to be largely exceeded, met or on track. 

RUMA Chair, Catherine McLaughlin, said: “UK agriculture is proud of its work to date on tackling AMR and, as we look ahead to the future, we will naturally start to see a shift in focus from reduction, to maintenance of the targets.

“It is important to highlight that zero use of antibiotics, be that across animal or human health, is neither viable nor responsible.

“People and animals do get sick at times even with the best health care and preventive plans in place, and antibiotics remain a key medicine in the treatment ‘toolbox’ to help people and animals recover.

"In those situations, antibiotics are rightfully needed and should be delivered under the mantra of ‘as little as possible, as much as necessary’."