Antibiotic use in livestock

Date published: 18 June 2018

There is concern worldwide about anti-microbial resistance (AMR) and the implications for human health. Antibiotic use in farmed animals is often considered to contribute indirectly to AMR in people. Whilst there are many misconceptions about antibiotic use in agriculture which should be addressed, there is increasing attention being focused on the use of antibiotic in farmed animals - in terms of quantities used, why they are used and the types of antibiotic administered.


Targets for antibiotic use

Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) is a UK independent non-profit group, involving organisations that represent all stages of the food chain from ‘farm to fork’. It has recently published species specific antibiotic use targets for different types of livestock.

Whilst not currently mandatory, these targets are deemed to be achievable by 2020. The targets encompass total antibiotic use by different livestock types, e.g. dairy cows, beef cattle, pigs, etc., but also specific targets for ‘highest priority critically important antibiotics’ (HP-CIA’s) - these are 3rd/4th generation cephalosporins, macrolides and quinolones. Such antibiotic types are considered vital as a backup for treatment of humans, where infections have not responded to older antibiotics. HP-CIA’s in animals are being greatly restricted. The Red Tractor Quality Assurance Scheme has indicated that from 1 June 2018, any member using HP-CIA’s must have documentary evidence from their farm veterinary practitioner justifying their use. 

Sick animals need to be treated - antibiotics should be administered if bacteria are deemed to be the causative organism - the right antibiotic given in the right amount for the right number of doses by the right route of administration, whilst adhering to the correct withdrawal periods.

The mantra, ‘as little as possible, but as much as necessary’ is a very useful strapline to practice as far as antibiotic use is concerned. The focus should be on reducing the need for antibiotics through prevention of disease, but if disease occurs that is attributable to bacteria, antibiotics should be administered as per veterinary protocol, to ensure the health and welfare of the animal(s) involved. 

Some ways to reduce the need for antibiotics

  1. Develop a herd health plan in conjunction with your veterinary practitioner - put it into action and review at least annually.
  2. Implement a vaccination policy as per herd health plan.
  3. Focus on disease prevention strategies, including farm biosecurity.
  4. Develop standard operating procedures for each specific disease and for the medications to be administered, in conjunction with your veterinary practitioner 
  5. Record all medications given (legal requirement) and reasons for administration - analyse this data to see where improvements can be made (consider possibility of benchmarking antibiotic use).

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