Sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals in Europe fell by more than 43% between 2011 and 2020, according to the latest European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption (ESVAC) report.

Sales in Ireland fell by 8.5% during the same period. Between 2019 and 2020, total antibiotic sales for use in food-producing animals in Ireland increased by 15.2%.

The ESVAC report findings were launched on Tuesday and include analysis from 31 countries across Europe.

European comparison

Across the 10 years measured, the rate of antibiotic use in food-producing animals in Ireland has fluctuated marginally from year to year, reaching a peak in 2013 and a trough in 2019, with an overall decrease of 8.5%.

The UK recorded a far greater drop (56%) in antibiotic use over the same period.

Pigs, cattle, poultry and sheep along with goats accounted for 32%, 31%, 15% and 13%, respectively, of the antibiotic use in the 31 European countries.

In Ireland, the equivalent ratio in 2020 was found to be pigs (13%), cattle (60%), poultry (5%) and sheep along with goats (16%).

Cattle accounted for almost 60% of all antibiotic use among food-producing animal species in Ireland in 2020, not surprising in a county dominated by beef and dairy production.

Addressing antimicrobial resistance

Ireland’s national action plan on antimicrobial resistance for 2017–2020 (iNAP) set out a range of strategic objectives, with targeted interventions and activities to address antimicrobial resistance.

The Department of Agriculture carried out education and awareness training on antimicrobial resistance and disease prevention through a knowledge transfer programme for participants from the farming sector.

While the 15.2% increase in reported sales of antimicrobials in 2020 brings into question the progress of this work to date, the ESVAC reports that one major factor that could have influenced the observed increase in 2020 sales in Ireland is the effect of Brexit.

It claimed that the uncertainty around Brexit and the potential implications for availability of products in 2021 led to over-purchasing of some antimicrobial products during 2020.