RATES OF antimicrobial resistance in Scottish livestock remain steady and relatively low, according to experts from Scotland’s Rural College.

Data released in the latest UK Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance and Sales Surveillance Report has revealed a 53% reduction in sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals over the past four years, coupled with a 68% reduction in sales of highest priority critically important antibiotics in the same period.

Despite these positive findings, individuals are still urged to take preventative measures to increase biosecurity on farm, such as practicing good animal husbandry to negate the need for antibiotics where possible.

Scientific director and chief executive of the Moredun Foundation, Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, explained that moving away from antibiotics offers a range of benefits to farmers: “We are trying to push for prevention over treatment, so as to minimise the use of drugs – which is in the best interest of overall livestock health and as part of a greener solution.

“Ideally we would like to see more selective breeding of high health animals and to use vaccination as a means to avoid antibiotic use further down the line,” she continued. “Farmers also can do a lot in terms of increasing biosecurity measures on farm when transporting animals to and from the premises and practicing good animal husbandry as a means to ensure high health status of their stock.

“We are not saying to use zero antibiotics as of course there are cases where an animal is in poor health and will require immediate treatment and you should discuss this with your vet,” stressed Prof Fitzpatrick.

For the second successive year, and in collaboration with Food Standards Scotland, data was collected on commensal E. coli cultured from the faeces of healthy livestock presenting at abattoirs in Scotland. It was found that the levels of non-susceptible E.coli from poultry and pigs were greater than those detected from cattle and sheep, but levels for each animal species remained relatively stable when compared with 2017.

Over both years, the levels of non-susceptibility to ampicillin and tetracycline were among the highest from the 12 antibiotics tested for all four hosts: both of these are among the antibiotics used most frequently for treatment of infections in livestock. Collection of similar data is continuing in 2019 and annual reviews will give a clearer view of changes in antimicrobial resistance over time.

Microbiology manager at SRUC Veterinary Services, Dr Geoff Foster, said: “Reducing the levels of non-sensitive microbes to antibiotics in food producing and companion animals is important to both animal and human health. This is our second year of full data and, while farmers, vets and the wider public should welcome stability in the data, we have a shared responsibility to combat anti-microbial resistance.

“Vigilance and best practice in the use of antibiotics remains the key to preserving their future efficacy,” he continued. “The advice remains the same: whenever possible use narrow rather than broad spectrum antibiotics, be very careful about when you advise the use of antibiotics as a preventative medicine and promote good husbandry to prevent the spread of disease in the first place.”