Europe reports drop in veterinary antibiotic sales

Veterinarians injecting pigs
Veterinarians injecting pigs

JackF / iStock

A report today from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) shows that sales of veterinary antibiotics continue to decline across Europe.

Data from the EMA's latest European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption (ESVAC) report show a 32.5% decline in sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals from 2011 through 2017, with sales of two antibiotic classes considered critical for human medicine—polymyxins and third- and fourth-generation cephalosporins—falling significantly.

Overall, 30 European Union/European Economic Activity (EU/EEA) countries and Switzerland contributed data to the report, which is published yearly and covers all food-producing species and companion animals. Last year's data showed a 20% decline in veterinary antibiotic sales from 2011 through 2016.

"The findings of the report confirm the downward trend seen over the last few years and show that EU guidance and national campaigns promoting prudent use of antibiotics in animals to fight antimicrobial resistance are having a positive effect," the EMA said in a press release.

Declines not unilateral

Among the 25 EU/EEA countries that have been providing data for the report since 2011, overall sales of veterinary antibiotics for use in food-producing animals fell from 162.0 milligrams per population correction unit (mg/PCU) in 2011 to 109.3 mg/PCU in 2017.

PCU is applied as a proxy for the size of the animal population at risk of being treated with antibiotics in each country, and is used to harmonize the data between countries. It does not include companion animals, which account for only 1% of veterinary antibiotic sales (in tons of active ingredient).

Of those 25 countries, 19 saw a reduction in antibiotic sales for food-producing animals of more than 5%. Countries with significant declines included Germany (58%), the Netherlands (51%), and France (41%). The report says potential explanations for reductions include responsible use campaigns, restrictions on use, reduction targets, and greater awareness of the threat of antimicrobial resistance.

But veterinary antibiotic sales didn't decline in all EU/EEA countries. Bulgaria, Poland, and Slovakia saw veterinary antibiotic sales increase by more than 5% from 2011 through 2017. In addition, a large difference was observed between the countries with the highest (Cyprus, 432.1 mg/PCU in 2017) and lowest sales (Norway, 3.1 mg/PCU in 2017) of veterinary antibiotics.

The EMA notes that these variations are partly a reflection of differences in the occurrence of disease, composition of the animal population, and production systems in these countries, and that the sales data do not represent how antibiotics are being used on European farms. Still, the agency says the differences underline the fact that some countries are doing a better job of limiting veterinary antibiotics than others.

"The substantial decline in sales of antimicrobials for food-producing species seen for some countries indicates that there is still a high potential for a decrease of antimicrobial use in others, especially in those with a high consumption," the EMA said.

Sharp drop in critical antibiotics

Contributing to the overall decline in sales were the significant decreases in the drugs classified by the World Health Organization as highest priority critically important antimicrobials. In the 25 countries with data since 2011, sales of polymyxins, third- and fourth-generation cephalosporins, and fluoroquinolones fell by 66.4%, 20.9%, and 10.3%, respectively.

Sales of the antibiotic classes that accounted for nearly two thirds of the veterinary antibiotics sold in 2017—tetracyclines, penicillins, and sulfonamides—also fell from 2011 through 2017. Sales of tetracyclines and sulfonamides fell by 44% and 46%, respectively, while sales of penicillins fell by 18%.

The number of countries contributing data to the ESVAC report has more than tripled since the project began, from 9 in 2010 to 31 in 2019. The EMA says the increase shows that European countries are committed to promoting responsible use of antibiotics in animals.

See also:

Oct 15 ESVAC report

Oct 15 EMA press release

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