"Passionate about improving cattle health & welfare through innovation, excellence & valued & trusted customer support."

Responsible Use of Antibiotics

What is it?

As you may be aware from the media, there has been increasing discussion around the use of antibiotics on farms. Growing awareness of the agricultural industry’s extensive use of medicines that are important for the treatment of infectious disease in humans is driving change across Europe. Antibiotics are becoming less effective in animals and man1, with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotic medicines causing 25,000 deaths a year in Europe alone2. Newspapers have seized on this and produced some attention grabbing headlines. The result of which is the general public has become a lot more aware of the issue and the noise grows further still.

European Parliament

On 11th December 2012 a Resolution was passed in the European parliament calling for immediate action to be taken to tackle antibiotic resistance. Ms Anna Rosbach, of the European Commission, stated ‘’the number of resistant bacteria in Europe is exploding... If we don't take measures now, the growing resistance could threaten our ability to treat patients and could even take us back to the pre-antibiotic era"2. A Resolution is the first step on the road towards a legally binding European-wide law. Big changes are coming.

So what’s happening in the UK?

Milk Purchasers such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s have produced their own guidelines requiring that the use of some injectable and intramammary antibiotics which contain critically important antibiotics be restricted. Elsewhere in Europe there have been government and agricultural organisation-led restrictions put in place across the farming industry but in the UK this has, so far, been purchaser led.
However the news that the ability of veterinary pharmaceutical companies in the UK to advertise antibiotics to farmers has disappeared, a position the UK has been privileged to have, has brought home how vulnerable the situation here is. Change has arrived already.

This, along with discussions about whether or not antibiotics are becoming less effective in animals and man³, has given enough cause for concern for an increasing number of farmers to be asking their vets for more information.

What both vets and farmers want, above all, is to have access to effective antibiotics to treat disease both now and into the future. So does this talk mean this status might be at risk? The answer is NO. There will still be antibiotics to treat bacterial diseases when needed, however there may be a few changes in the recommendations about which antibiotics to use and how best to make use of them.

So what can we do?

You may well have heard about the guidelines that have been produced by RUMA (Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture alliance). RUMA is an alliance of agricultural organisations representing every stage of the ‘’farm to fork’’ process and they describe how best to make use of the antibiotics we have. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has also published guidelines on the use of antibiotics within the cattle industry. The guidelines suggest, for some classes of critically important antibiotics:
1. Reserving these antibiotics for clinical conditions that respond poorly to other classes of antibiotics and where antibiotic sensitivity has been carried out.
2. Do not treat groups of animals except in very specific situations and give special attention to the risk of antibiotic resistance as part of the risk/benefit assessment.
3. Avoid off label use (use of antibiotics for treatments that they aren’t licensed for and dosing either more, less or in different ways than are recommended).

Considerations when treating mastitis in your cows

With over 1.6 tonnes of antibiotic used in intramammary tubes in 20104, this accounts for a significant proportion of farm animal antibiotic use. At the moment there are no specific restrictions about which intramammary mastitis tubes should be used in which circumstances. But with the threat of restriction of use of these critically important antibiotics, choosing the right tube for the routine treatment of mastitis is an area where there may need to be change.

Working with your vet, you might to choose to determine the most appropriate tube by the bacteriological testing of current mastitis cases rather than just treating “blind”. Bacteriological testing of some high somatic cell count (SCC) cows might also be wise. Your vet can then guide you to choose a first line intramammary tube that provides a high level of cure whilst offering a well thought out and clear treatment path for the future.

For all antibiotic use whether it is for mastitis, pneumonia or at drying off, it may well be that you can refine and reduce your usage and actually maintain the health of your herd whilst hopefully saving you money. Speak to your vet about reviewing your antibiotic use.
If we can be ahead of any legislative changes that may come we’ll be in a better position to maintain our high standards of treatment and welfare throughout. At the end of the day there are antibiotics that you may already be using that are equally or maybe even more effective but without the threat of restrictions. It needn’t be the disruption that many are predicting.


1. Nature. Vol 472. 7 April 2011
2. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=IM-PRESS&reference=20121207IPR04406&format=XML&language=EN Accessed on 12th December 2012
3. A summary of the proceedings and discussions, VLA and GVS/AGV Nat. Conf., Uni. of Warwick, Sep 2010.
4. http://www.vmd.defra.gov.uk/pdf/salesanti10.pdf Accessed on 14th Feb 2012

An educational service from Boehringer Ingelheim Limited, Vetmedica Division, the makers of Metacam®, Bovikalc®, Ubrolexin®, Ubro Yellow®, Ubro Red® and Mamyzin®.

Advice on the use of Metacam, Bovikalc or other therapies should be sought from your veterinary surgeon. Metacam contains meloxicam, UK: POM-V IE: POM. Bovikalc contains calcium chloride and calcium sulphate and is not a veterinary medicine which is subject to authorisation by the Irish Medicines Board. Further information available from Boehringer Ingelheim Limited, Vetmedica Division, Bracknell, Berkshire, RG12 8YS, UK. Email: vetmedica.uk@boehringer-ingelheim.com | Web: www.boehringer-ingelheim.co.uk

See our Terms of Use

Date of preparation: Jul 2013. AHD 7729. Use Medicines Responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible)