The move comes as the whole agriculture industry, co-ordinated by agricultural and food industry alliance RUMA which promotes responsible use of medicines in farming, looks to build on the recent 10% reduction in use of antibiotics to treat farm animals.

The BCVA’s Dr Elizabeth Berry, who prepared the recommendations, said that whilst the responsible use of antibiotics has been promoted for many years across farming sectors, there is still the potential to reduce use in some areas and to move away from products which are important for human health.

She said: “This is an official position from BCVA to our members but we would like to see all in the cattle sectors embrace these recommendations in the understanding that we need to play our part in increasing responsible use of antibiotics.

“Work still needs to be done to establish the levels currently being used in cattle so that appropriate targets can be set but there are measures that can immediately be adopted.

“So we are recommending reducing both the overall amount of antibiotics used in cattle practice and minimising the use of the high priority CIAs – namely third and fourth generation cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones and colistin. These drugs should only be used where they have been demonstrated by sensitivity testing to be the only suitable choice to avoid unnecessary suffering.”

BCVA, which has over 1,100 practising members covering around 85% of vets working with cattle, is also recommending that use of antibiotics as a preventative treatment is avoided wherever possible as long as animal welfare is not compromised.

“Where preventative treatment – or prophylaxis – is used it should be regarded as an interim measure whilst alternative management or vaccination strategies are implemented,” adds Dr Berry

“For example, all cows which comply with recommendations for using an internal teat sealant should be considered for non-antibiotic treatments at drying off.”

BCVA continues to advise that every farm should have a herd health plan which embraces all of the disease control strategies appropriate for disease reduction on that farm. In addition, farm management best practice should be followed, such as the guidelines issued by Red Tractor farm assurance.

Dr Berry says BCVA further recommends that all herds should establish their BVD status and eradicate the disease where it is found. “BVD can have a detrimental effect on incidence of many diseases and its eradication will have a significant impact on the need for antimicrobial use.

“We also continue to recommend the use of diagnostics to identify disease so that appropriate treatments can be selected and vaccination programmes instituted to prevent or reduce the severity of disease.”

BCVA’s confirmation of its official position has been welcomed by RUMA. Secretary General John FitzGerald says that while RUMA’s promotion of responsible use over the past 20 years means the UK remains among the lower users of antibiotics in farming in Europe1, more needs to be done.

“The BCVA’s position is clear and leaves no doubt that action needs to be taken,” says Mr FitzGerald. “It is underpinned by science, recognising that banning preventative use outright or access to critically important antibiotics is not an answer. Both are important tools in fighting disease and preventing suffering so we still need them – but we need to use them more strategically and only when no other options exist.”

The complete list of guidelines can be downloaded from the BCVA website