FARMERS across Europe are using fewer antibiotics to treat production animals, new research suggests.

The latest annual report from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) found sales of antibiotics down by 34% between 2011 and 2018.

See also: Chicken drove rise in antibiotic use in poultry last year

The UK made a significant reduction over that period, according to the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), with the fifth lowest sales overall – 71% lower than the EU average, in terms of mg/pcu.

The survey is ran by ESVAC, a project set up in 2010 to standardise reporting for veterinary antibiotics across Europe and report annually on sales.

Its latest report says total sales of antibiotics critically important to human health have fallen.


These classes include antibiotics used to treat serious infections in humans caused by bacteria resistant to most other antibiotic treatments.

Sales of third- and fourth- generation cephalosporins dropped by 24%, polymyxins dropped by 70%, fluoroquinolones decreased by 4% and sales of other quinolones dropped by 74%.

Ivo Claassen, head of EMA’s Veterinary Medicines Division. The steady decrease in sales of veterinary antibiotics over ten years shows that Europe is on the right track to fight antimicrobial resistance.”

“EU guidance and national campaigns promoting prudent use of antibiotics in animals are having a positive effect.”

Downward trend

RUMA chair Cat McLaughlin welcomed the report. She said: “It’s very positive to see this downward trend across almost all countries.

“Not just in terms of total sales, but also the highest-priority antibiotics 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones and colistin.”

“While the use of antibiotics in food production is not the main driver of antibiotic-resistant infections in people, it can be a contributing factor.

“Any use of an antibiotic has the potential to create resistance, and as part of a One Health approach, we all have a duty to protect the efficacy of medical and veterinary antibiotics by reducing, refining or replacing use.”

UK targets

While the ESVAC report compares 2018 data across European countries, UK figures for 2019 sales of antibiotics for farm animals are due out shortly as well.

New sector-specific targets for the UK livestock industry 2021-2024 are scheduled for release in November.

The last targets, developed by a ‘Targets Task Force’ (TTF) representing nine different livestock sectors in 2017, run their course at the end of 2020.

New challenges

Ms McLaughlin explained that as UK farming neared the end of the period covered by the original TTF targets, most goals had now been achieved or had run their course and need revisiting.

“We’ve seen many livestock sectors facing new disease and environmental challenges, or experience challenges with data collection.

“This makes the forthcoming release of the new targets and a ‘reset’ of activities very timely.”