Responsible Use of Antibiotics


Antibiotics are vital medicines, which are used for the treatment of both human and animal bacterial infections. In order to ensure the continued availability and effectiveness of these medicines they must be used responsibly. This briefing document highlights the core principles of responsible antibiotic use and some of the major initiatives that are promoting the responsible use of antibiotics in people and animals.

Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA)

The animal health sector supports important initiatives promoting best practice in animal medicine (1, 2). In the UK, the responsible use of medicines in agriculture alliance or RUMA was established in 1997 to promote high standards in food safety and animal health and welfare in the livestock industry (1). RUMA is an independent, non-profit, group with membership from a wide variety of organisations representing all stages of the food chain from ‘farm to fork’.

RUMA has played a significant role in the promotion of the responsible use of antibiotics and has developed a series of guidelines for the responsible use of antibiotics in livestock, which are designed for farmers and veterinary surgeons (3). These guidelines are also tailored for poultry, pig, cattle, sheep and fish farming.

Underlying all these guidelines are guiding principles of disease control. On farm, reducing the need to use antibiotics in the first instance can be achieved by developing and implementing herd and flock health plans with the veterinary surgeon. These bespoke plans take individual factors on farm and animal health history into account and focus on preventative health measures. This means good biosecurity, hygiene, nutrition and reducing stress. The use of vaccines, where available are a key preventative health tool to reduce the incidence or severity of disease and the need to treat infections with antibiotics.


Antibiotic Guardian and ‘One Health’

Many of the classes of antibiotics used today are necessary to protect the health and welfare of both people and animals. This means it is essential to ensure these medicines are used responsibly and that a range of antibiotics continues to be available and effective for animals and people who need them.

The key message of responsible use is widely acknowledged by both human and veterinary medical professions. This is demonstrated by the ‘Antibiotic Guardian’ initiative, which was developed by Public Health England (PHE) in collaboration with Department of Health’s Expert Advisory Committee on Antimicrobial Resistance and Healthcare Associated Infections (ARHAI); the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Devolved Administrations and professional bodies/organisations (4). This ‘One Health’ initiative invites everyone –  the public (with specific pledges for pet and horse owners), students and educators, farmers, the veterinary and medical communities and professional organisations to make a pledge about how they will make better use of antibiotics and become ‘Antibiotic Guardians’. The pledges are designed to reflect how these different communities can best play their part (5).


Key Principles for Antibiotic Use in Animals

Importantly, when antibiotics are needed for animals, they can only be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon. A vet will not prescribe an antibiotic if it is not appropriate, in the same way as people should not expect an antibiotic to fight a cold, for example. It is particularly important, when antibiotics are prescribed, that the instructions are followed exactly as directed by the veterinary surgeon. Practically, this means giving the animal the correct dose of antibiotic for the entire duration of treatment. As each prescription is intended to be delivered in full, antibiotics must only be given to the animal(s) on the prescription.

These measures ensure that animals receive the optimal dose of antibiotic, for the required amount of time to inhibit or kill the bacteria causing the infection or disease. Reducing the duration of treatment or reducing the dose prescribed can impact on the effectiveness of treatment and allow the survival of resistant bacteria.


Safeguarding our antibiotics, as vital medicines for animal and human health, is a priority for all those involved in prescribing and using antibiotics.

As highlighted here, both the animal and human medicine sectors have developed initiatives, and issued guidance, to achieve common goals.

Looking to the future, collaboration and co-ordination of resources and knowledge is needed for the further development and forward momentum of responsible use initiatives.

Updated May 2016


  1. Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), homepage and overview:
  1. European Platform for the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture http:
  1. RUMA guidelines on responsible use of antimicrobials:
  1. Antibiotic guardian initiative.
  1. Antibiotic Guardian Pledges, Annex 1