Sales of veterinary antibiotics across Europe dropped by more than 32% between 2011 and 2017, according to the latest report published by the European Medicines Agency.
Sales of polymyxins fell 66%, and sales of third and fourth generation cephalosporins decreased by more than 20%.
Reduced use of these in animals is particularly welcome, because it lessens the danger of bacteria becoming resistant to these two antibiotic types now critically important for human medicine, because they are used to treat serious infections caused by bacteria resistant to most treatments.
The report confirms a downward trend of the last few years for veterinary antibiotic sales, indicating that EU guidance and national campaigns promoting prudent use of antibiotics in animals are having a positive effect.
In 2017, population-adjusted sales for farm animals, including horses, averaged 107 mg sold per population correction unit (PCU) across 31 countries, and ranged from only 3.1mg in Norway to 423.1mg in Cyprus. The figure for Ireland was 46.6mg.
Sales for food-producing species in 2017 exceeded 150mg per PCU in only five countries, Cyprus, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Spain.
While 19 of the 25 countries that provided data for 2011-2017 saw a drop in sales of veterinary antibiotics of more than 5%, five countries recorded increased sales (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, and Slovakia).
The European Medicines Agency said reduced veterinary antibiotic sales are the result of combined efforts of veterinarians, farmers, others in the livestock sector, EU Member States, the European Commission and the EMA. Much of these efforts fall under the umbrella of the EU One Health Action Plan against Antimicrobial Resistance.
In the UK, there has been a 40% fall in sales of antibiotics for farm animals in the past five years, making British farmers one of the lowest users of antibiotics in Europe.
Increasing vaccination of livestock has helped them do without antibiotics.
There’s no sign of the fall in vaccination uptake in human medicine occurring in veterinary medicine.
Derek Armstrong of the UK’s AHDB said the big rise has been in vaccines to protect against pneumonia in calves.
“Sales for this have risen 35% since 2011, with two-fifths of all calves protected in 2018.
!Vaccines for another lung condition, rhinotracheitis, have also gone up by 50% over the same period,” he explained.
“Other good news is that one in five breeding cows now gets vaccinated to reduce the risk of her calf contracting enteritis. Protective antibodies are passed to the calf as it drinks its mother’s colostrum shortly after birth.”
The UK sheep sector in 2018 had the highest uptake of vaccines in over six years.
Over two-thirds of all sheep which should be vaccinated against a range of important ‘clostridial’ diseases, were vaccinated. Half of the UK’s sheep were vaccinated against Pasteurella bacteria which cause pneumonia and sudden death.
Despite issues with vaccine supply, the number of ewes vaccinated against diseases that lead to miscarriages also steadily increased since 2013.
Although sales of footrot vaccine steadily climbed since 2013, there was a small drop in uptake of the vaccine, from 15% of breeding animals in 2017 to 13% in 2018.