Campaigners have clashed over figures showing a fall in the amount of antimicrobials used in livestock production.

Year-on-year sales of therapeutic antimicrobials fell by 18 tonnes in 2007, according to a report by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD).

Antimicrobial sales for livestock also fell, reveals the document. No antimicrobial growth promoters have been sold since they were banned in 2006, it adds.

Antimicrobial resistance in human medicine has led to increasing concern about the use of antimicrobials in animal production.

The latest figures were welcomed by the National Office for Animal Health (NOAH), which represents the animal medicine industry.

“Those involved in livestock faming continue to be actively involved in reducing the need to use antibiotics,” said NOAH chief executive Phil Sketchley.

“Antibiotics continue to be used responsibly by the veterinary profession and livestock farmers, for the benefit of animal health and welfare.”

The figures showed that farmers were reducing the need to treat animals while demonstrating a commitment to animal health and welfare, said Mr Sketchley.

But the Soil Association, which opposes the routine use of antimicrobials in food production, said the overall fall was partly explained by falling livestock numbers.

Instead, the association focused on what it described as “another big jump” in the veterinary use of two classes of antimicrobials also used in human medicine.

In 2007, the year-on-year amount of fluoroquinolone antibiotics sold rose by 335kg. Similarly, the amount of cephalosporins sold increased by 576kg.

Association policy adviser Richard Young said this represented a 20% year-on-year increase in fluoroquinolones and a 10% increase in cephalosporins.

“We estimate that a move to less intensive, more health-oriented livestock farming, could reduce farm antibiotic use by up to 75%,” he said.

“This would help to safeguard the future effectiveness of critically important drugs, and over the coming years, save countless human lives.”

Mr Young said he accepted there were occasions when antibiotics should legitimately be used on farms to prevent death or suffering.

But many farmers continued to use them – ignorant of the long-term consequences of doing so – when there were equally effective alternatives for most conditions.