UK sales of antibiotics used for treating food-producing animals have halved over the past four years.
Government data shows that sales reduced by 53% between 2014 and 2018, a statistic officials said demonstrated the “strong and committed approach” taken by the UK’s food, farming and veterinary sectors to tackling antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
There has also been a 68% reduction in sales of the highest priority critically important antibiotics for food-producing species during the same period, according to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.
The World Health Organisation has described the risk of AMR – where microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and some parasites become resistance to antimicrobials such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials – as one of the most urgent public health challenges facing the world, putting millions of lives at risk.
Excessive use of antibiotics in food-producing animals has been identified as a significant cause of AMR. The O’Neill review published in 2016 concluded that curbs on the use of drugs in agriculture were necessary to stop the spread of drug-resistant infections with a particular focus on restricting the use of antibiotics to prevent, rather than treat, disease.
Some food businesses are working to address the use of antibiotics in their supply chains. McDonald’s has previously stated its intention to phase out all use of antibiotics considered critically important to human health, while Subway is committed to serving only antibiotic-free meat by 2025.