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What role does the VMD play?

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) is the government lead on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) policy, with respect to animal health. The work of the AMR policy team covers three core areas:

Collection of data:

Data are collected in order to track trends in resistance in bacteria obtained from animals, and trends in sales of veterinary antibiotics. As part of this evidence base the VMD funds a number of AMR related Research and Development (R&D) studies which are designed to increase understanding of the factors influencing the development of antibiotic resistance, including examining the ways in which resistant bacteria, or resistance genes, are transmitted. More information on specific AMR projects that have been completed, or that are currently being undertaken, can be found within the R&D section of this website.

Raising awareness:

The VMD has an outreach and education programme to raise awareness on the issue of antibiotic resistance and on the importance of using antibiotics responsibly, this includes:

  • The provision of lectures to veterinary undergraduates;
  • promotion of responsible use messages in national and specialist media;
  • collaboration with external bodies representing the veterinary and livestock industries;
  • working with European counterparts to develop a responsible use toolkit, and collaborating on the development of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) guidelines.

The VMD want to engage more closely with those who look after animals, or who are part of the livestock and food industries, to encourage open communication and to help raise awareness about practices and initiatives that impact on the development of resistance. To facilitate this in November and December 2013 the VMD hosted a number of engagement forums targeting different animal sectors, including ruminant, pig, poultry, fish and companion animals. The purpose of these forums was to provide a platform for discussion about the specific issues surrounding antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in each sector.

Development of policy:

The VMD leads on the creation and implementation of government policy aimed at minimising the risk to animal and public health from antibiotic resistance. The government approach to managing this risk is set out in the recently published cross government 5 year AMR Strategy. Evidence on new or potential risks and on specific issues affecting AMR is considered by the Defra Antimicrobial Resistance Co-ordination (DARC) Group.

The VMD also works to minimise the development of antibiotic resistance through the assessment process that all veterinary medicines must undergo in order to obtain an authorisation for sale in the UK. In the case of an antibiotic the assessment must also include the impact the medicine may have on development of resistance.

This assessment considers both the impact of an antibiotic on bacteria in the animal to which the medicine is given, and also (in the case of animals reared as food), the impact on bacteria in the human digestive tract. In addition, all veterinary medicines, including antibiotics, that are authorised for use in food animals are allocated a withdrawal period, the minimum length of time after administration of the medicine before which meat or other products (such as eggs or milk) from that animal can be used for human consumption.

There are also strict controls, set out in legislation, on the sale of antibiotics for animals; just as in human medicine, antibiotics for animals are only available on prescription by a veterinary surgeon.

Action in Europe:

In November 2011 the European Commission published the Action plan against the rising threats from Antimicrobial Resistance, which listed 12 key actions aimed at containing the risk of antimicrobial resistance to human health from the use of antimicrobials in both medical and veterinary fields. These actions covered a range of recommendations, from a call to harmonise and strengthen data collection, and develop responsible use best practice guidance, to a commitment to use legislation to improve disease prevention practices and re-examine regulatory controls on the ways in which antibiotics are used.

The VMD works closely with other European Member States to ensure that antibiotics are used in a responsible way within European legislation; supporting the work of European Medicines Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use (CVMP) on antibiotic resistance. The Chief Executive Officer of the VMD chairs the Heads of European Medicines Agencies Veterinary Antibiotics taskforce, and VMD also currently chair the antibiotics working group of the CVMP.

The EU legislation on veterinary medicines is currently under revision and the UK along with other Member States and the Commission are examining the available evidence to establish whether there is a need for additional controls on antibiotics used in animals, in particular those which are critically important for human health.

Last Updated: 01 April 2014

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