Farming News - Sales of veterinary antibiotics in the UK reach lowest ever level

Sales of veterinary antibiotics in the UK reach lowest ever level

  • Sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals fell by 9% last year and have reduced by 59% since 2014.
  • The report also highlights a positive picture of decreasing resistance across several key outcome indicators.


Sales of veterinary antibiotics in the UK are at the lowest level ever recorded, in a report published by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) 1 November.

The figures, published in the latest UK-Veterinary Antimicrobial Resistance and Sales Surveillance (VARSS) Report, show that sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals fell by nearly 10 percent in the last year and have more than halved since 2014. Sales of the highest-priority antibiotics due to their critical importance to human health remain at extremely low levels. The report also highlights a positive picture of decreasing resistance across several key outcome indicators.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a global challenge with wide-ranging impacts across human and animal health, food security, and economic development. AMR occurs when bacteria, and other microorganisms, develop a resistance to antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics, making them less responsive or unresponsive to treatment. Avoiding unnecessary antibiotic usage in humans and animals is crucial to slowing the development of antibiotic resistance. 

The report published today demonstrates the UK’s commitment to surveillance of antibiotic use in order to better understand and mitigate the risks of AMR. In 2022, the AMR surveillance programme was expanded, to include the monitoring of three new bacterial species, giving a more complete picture of AMR in animals and its relevance to people.

Abi Seager, Veterinary Medicines Directorate CEO said:

“Antibiotic stewardship is embedded in UK farming and responsible use is essential to maintaining our high animal health and welfare standards. 

“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.”

The Animal and Plant Health Agency works jointly with VMD to monitor bacteria in food-producing animals for AMR and provide the surveillance data presented in this report. APHA also provide advice and expertise to vets, farmers and industry groups supporting them to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance. 

APHA Director of Science and Transformation Jenny Stewart said:

 “APHA has a long history of working on antimicrobial resistance in the animal health sector and has been partnering with the VMD for many years, to tackle this important global challenge.

“Today’s report is demonstration that our collective hard work is achieving positive progress and we will continue to work closely with UK vets and farmers as well as international partners to develop their AMR capacity.”

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.”

Lord Benyon, Minister for Biosecurity, Marine and Rural Affairs, said:

“Today’s report is encouraging news and I welcome the commitment and energy shown by vets and farmers to address antimicrobial resistance.  

“The UK government continues to champion the 20-year vision to contain and control AMR, and we will be publishing more information next year in a new five-year AMR National Action Plan.”  

Catherine McLaughlin, Chair of The Responsible use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) said:

 “The results being seen in both the VARSS Report and our RUMA Targets Task Force Report demonstrate that the voluntary and collaborative efforts from UK livestock sectors in the responsible use of antibiotics is achieving positive outcomes.

The UK livestock sectors should be proud of their work to date on tackling AMR.”

As momentum builds toward the United Nations High Level Meeting on AMR next year, the UK will launch the latest AMR five-year National Action Plan which will build upon the progress made over the last 5 years.

Today’s report forms part of the UK’s 20-year vision for antimicrobial resistance which sets out how the UK will contribute to containing and controlling antimicrobial resistance by 2040.

More information on the specific targets and ambitions on antibiotic use from each livestock sector can be found in The Targets Taskforce (TTF) update report, which was also published on the 1s November.  

Further information:

The Animal and Plant Health Agency is a World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) Reference Laboratory for antimicrobial resistance and works jointly with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the VMD to support AMR capacity-building globally. This collaborative expertise was recognised by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2019 when the centre became the first to be awarded the status of ‘FAO Reference Centre for AMR’.

In 2020, to strengthen surveillance of AMR in support of the UK National Action Plan, APHA introduced an additional gold standard ‘broth microdilution’ test method to generate antibiotic susceptibility results for key veterinary pathogens. This is used alongside whole genome sequencing.

Wider APHA work on AMR includes working with international partners in their home laboratories to develop their AMR capacity, hosting visitors at UK facilities, supporting the development of a global community of AMR leaders and experts, training scientists, and helping to build One Health partnerships for action on AMR. Earlier this year APHA hosted the first annual congress of FAO reference centres for AMR to discuss priorities for addressing AMR in agrifood systems and areas for future collaboration.

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) promote animal health and welfare by assuring the safety, quality and efficacy of veterinary medicines.

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