Antibiotic usage - change is coming

One of the world’s leading experts on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has confirmed that livestock farmers will have no option but to reduce their dependence on antibiotic usage.

Saturday, 29th May 2021, 7:08 am
Colin Smith
Colin Smith

Moreover, these changes will be coming down the track for farmers throughout the UK in the very near future.

Professor Johanna Fink-Gremmels, from Utrecht University, made these comments while addressing an AHV-hosted webinar earlier this week.

She continued:“This is already happening across Europe. In the Netherlands, for example, dairy farmers must practice selective dry cow management. This was made mandatory in 2019.

“Linked to this, all milk buyers in the Netherlands have made it mandatory for their dairy farmer suppliers to milk record.”

According to Fink-Gremmels, the UK has signed up to legislation that will drastically reduce the levels of antibiotics and antimicrobials used within production agriculture, adding:“Brexit will not change this. AMR is a global challenge, one which the UK government fully recognises.”

Fink-Gremmels confirmed that there are no new antibiotics in the pipeline.

She said: “And this will remain the case. But research carried out over recent years has delivered new insights into the way that bacteria operate.

“This work is helping to develop new science, which will be at the heart of new therapies that can be used to maximise animal health standards on farms.”

Kerry-based veterinarian Robert Flahive also spoke at the webinar. He confirmed that January of next year will see the introduction of major restrictions in the farm-use of antibiotics throughout the Republic of Ireland.

Significantly, he felt that such a development could deliver important benefits for those farmers committed to improving the health status of their herds. He said: “The coming years will see all herds independently ranked in accordance with their antibiotic usage. I see no reason why farmers achieving very low levels of antibiotic usage should not receive a premium price for their output.”

Meanwhile Northern Ireland continues to lead the way, in many aspects, where AMR measures introduced within the UK are concerned.

LMC’s Industry Development Manager Colin Smith also sits on the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) Cattle Antibiotic Guardian Group, which plays an important role in encouraging the responsible use of veterinary medicines in agriculture.

RUMA is a unique, independent non-profit alliance of farming, animal health industry, food retailing and associated groups with the aim of promoting a co-ordinated and integrated approach to best practice in the use of medicines on farm. The RUMA targets taskforce was established in 2017 and the first report in 2020 noted that UK sales of antibiotics to treat farm animals have halved since 2014.

The LMC representative commented: “Great strides have been made in tackling the AMR challenge here in Northern Ireland over recent years. The success of the BVD eradication programme and last year’s introduction of new antibiotic usage standards in the Northern Ireland Beef and lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme are excellent example of this ongoing work.

“In addition, the Department of Health in Northern Ireland has developed a five-year AMR Implementation plan based on the ‘One Health’ approach encompassing human health, public health, veterinary medicine, animal husbandry and the environment.”

Colin Smith concluded: “Whether through disease eradication programmes, knowledge transfer, strategic initiatives or industry led research projects, the Northern Ireland ruminant livestock sectors are actively tackling the important issue of AMR.

“Participation in UK wide projects allows Northern Ireland to benchmark its antimicrobial usage with other regions and develop a co-ordinated response.

“A flexible but focussed long term strategy is needed to address AMR and it is positive, that the industry has many of the tools already in place to address this important issue.”

Quorum sensing is one of the new and evolving sciences that have evolved to help tackle the scourge of diseases caused by bacteria and parasitic fungi.

AHV’s Dr DrGertjanStreefland explained: “Antimicrobial resistance is not a new phenomenon. The plant kingdom has been dealing with this issue almost since the beginning of time.

“Fortunately, modern scientific research has succeeded in identifying how nature has successfully dealt with this problem.

“AHV was established to convert this science into practical solutions for livestock farmers, who are having to deal with the disease-related impact of bacterial infection on a regular basis.”

Streefland continued: “What we now know is that bacteria must gather together in groups in order to impact on the host animal. To make this happen they must communicate with each other through a process called ‘quorum sensing’. In essence, individual bacteria emit signal molecules so as to make this grouping process come about.

“In response, AHV products have been developed to disrupt this communication process, thereby abolishing the impact that pathogenic bacteria could have when entering a host animal.”