Contrast between UK human and animal antibiotics use revealed

01-02-2019 | | |
Photo: Dreamstime
Photo: Dreamstime

A major new report has outlined antibiotic use in both animals and humans in the UK, with the aim of supporting a “one health” approach to tackling resistance.

It is the 2nd such report published by the UK government, covering the period between 2013 and 2017. Based on use per bodyweight, there was a 40% reduction in antibiotics given to food-producing animals over that time, and a 9% reduction in humans. Use in humans accounted for 55% of the total in 2013, compared with 64% 4 years later.

In 2017 the highest priority critically important antibiotics 89% (17t) were used in people. There has been an 8% increase in human use and a 51% decrease in animal use.

Resistant genes

These drugs are defined as colistin, fluoroquinolones and third- and fourth-generation cephalosporins. In response to the discovery of resistant genes to colistin, its use in food-producing animals decreased by 99% between 2015 and 2017.

The poultrymeat sector has contributed to this total, reducing overall antibiotic use 71% in the past four years, despite production increasing 11% to over a billion birds a year. It also voluntarily stopped using colistin in 2016.

UK ranks 10th for antibiotic use

In addition, the sector has imposed a voluntary ban on the use of 3rd and 4th generation Cephalosporins.

When compared with the rest of Europe, the UK ranks 10th for antibiotic use in food-producing animals, above the Netherlands, France, Germany and Poland, but below Denmark, Norway and Sweden.


The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance, a non-profit group promoting responsible medicine use in agriculture, welcomed the report. It said in a statement: “In farming, cutting the risk of resistance developing within veterinary medicine is a primary goal as we need to preserve the antibiotics we have to ensure we can continue to treat disease and – in doing so – safeguard animal health and welfare and food safety.

“However, we also need to ensure that risk to human health arising from the use of antibiotics in farm animals is kept to a minimum.

“We are pleased by the progress in both these areas from measures introduced to improve stewardship, pioneered by the poultry meat sector in 2012 and implemented progressively by other sectors from 2015 onwards.”

The full report can be accessed on the website

Jake Davies Freelance Journalist
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