Viewpoint of Antibiotic Usage in the UK

By 30th June 2015News.

With the topic of antibiotic usage on farm becoming more prevalent in the media we have asked for a view point from a leading pharmaceutical company. They have submitted an article, but would like to remain anonymous.

So what’s all the fuss about antibiotics?

It seems that there isn’t a meeting or a publication in the pig sector, which doesn’t make reference to the fact that the pig industry is using too much antibiotics.  So what’s all the fuss about and are we responsible for the increase in antibiotic resistance in humans?

There is much debate at present on antibiotic resistance in human medicine and antibiotic use in the human and veterinary medicine sectors. Antibiotic resistance is a serious health risk and a growing concern in humans. Scientific evidence increasingly recognizes that the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans comes largely from the over-use and misuse of antibiotics in humans, rather than animal medicine. In any event, antibiotics must be used responsibly in agriculture to stop the possibility of their use leading to problems in animal or human medicine. The key driver for any controls on the use of antibiotics in animals is to reduce the risk of resistance in humans.

The European Commission published its proposals for the European Medicated Feed Regulations in September 2014. The proposals will have a significant impact on the prescribing, manufacture and use of medicated feed in the UK that are an important route of administrating antibiotics and parasiticides to animals.  Topics include the level of carryover in mills, preventative use, prescription validity period and veterinary examination prior to prescription, amongst others.


Despite the ban of antibiotics as growth promoters in January, 2006, there is still a legacy that antibiotics are used extensively in the pig industry. There is confusion amongst consumers between growth promotion, abusive usage to compensate for poor hygiene or husbandry and justified prevention.


The word “prevention” means something entirely different when used in prescription medicines in the livestock sector.  In common parlance, prevention is the action of stopping something from happening or arising.  So it is understandable that politicians (and consumers) may think that we use antibiotics, even when they may not be necessary.  However, vets will prescribe antibiotics based on the presence of a pathogen, even although clinical symptoms may not yet be present.  Some animals may show symptoms and are clearly ill, other animals in the group may be infected but are asymptomatic, and others may not yet be infected but the veterinary surgeon will know that the disease will spread to all animals.  This is an example where medicated feed would be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon to benefit the group of animals and prevent the disease spreading further.  The pig industry has a responsibility to educate the public, politicians and consumers on this definition, and not expect the non-farming community to understand the nuances so specific to the livestock sector.

Prevention is better than cure and antibiotics can be used responsibly in both human and animal medicine to prevent disease and suffering. However, the routine preventive use of antibiotics should not be supported where such disease challenge can be prevented by better husbandry and farm management.

Facts & Figures

According to ESVAC (European Survey on Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption), in 2012, UK hosted 12.2% of the food producing animals in Europe (26 reporting countries) and used only 5.6% of the antimicrobials consumed for those species in Europe. The antimicrobial usage in the UK was then below the average usage in Europe. We can be proud of this but cannot rest on our laurels and should realize that there is a significant influence of the repartition of the different animal populations (40% of the UK’s food producing animals are sheep & goats).

Graph Lydia P


Some countries have recently made good inroads into using antimicrobials more responsibly. Even though using antibiotics “better”, doesn’t mean using less, decrease of consumption is often observed at least in a first stage approach – this is reflected by decreasing usage reported in the same EFSA report.


Lydia P Graph 2



The pig industry in the UK should not be ashamed of its current practices. Politicians and consumers often overestimate the unknown. For those reasons we advocate transparency so that people will be able to base their opinions on facts. This will also help the industry to continue improving as you “can only improve that which can be measured”.

For this reason, industry representatives have joined together to form the PHWC (Pig Health and Welfare Council) and have requested that farmers complete their antibiotic usage figures on a herd or farm level.  It is not a stick to beat farmers with, but rather a tool to show that the pig industry uses antibiotics responsibly.


Claims of AB resistance in humans


The fear is that antimicrobial usage in food producing animals may result in a general increase in levels of antimicrobial resistance development in humans. There have been a few reports in various publications on the links between antimicrobial use and resistance in humans and animals. Published data does not support such a general impact on the increase of levels of resistance.   But some positive associations have been reported, and the media are not so quick to headline the good news stories.  For this reason, we need to do more to demonstrate that the previously reported publications are flawed.




In conclusion, the pig industry uses medicines safely, responsibly, with veterinary advice and should continue improving its responsible use of medicines.  It is the responsibility of all the stakeholders in this sector to keep reminding our friends, politicians and processors that we abide by the guidelines of RUMA, and that medicines are used “as little as possible, but as much as necessary”.  NPA, BPEX, PVS, NOAH and the PHWC are doing a good job of lobbying on behalf of the pig industry… but we could all do a little more to ensure that consumers and the media understand the need for antibiotics, and that the reasons for using antibiotics are based on human as well as animal health and the welfare of our pigs.