Farmers are responding to the antibiotic challenge

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Recent weeks have brought news that the UK pig industry is on track to hit its target in terms of reducing antibiotic usage within the sector. This is a genuinely good news story for livestock farming as a whole.

Dublin’s Croke Park recently hosted a conference for members of the British Society of Animal Science (BSAS). One of the most significant themes to the event was the focus placed on the role of antimicrobials within production agriculture.

At the very heart of this debate is the growing challenge of antibiotic resistance, caused by the misuse of antimicrobials, where both humans and animals are concerned.

Tying in with all of this is the need for the industry to come up with voluntary codes of practice, which will see antibiotic usage levels fall dramatically within the next number of years.

However, if the voluntary approach does not work, then it is inevitable that the likes of the EU and the World Trade Organisation will step-in with regulations forcing farmers to cut back on the use of antimicrobials within their production systems.

All the speakers addressing this subject at the BSAS event made the point that change, where antibiotic usage is concerned, will be driven by a fundamental mind shift on the part of farmers.

This will require new thinking, where biosecurity and animal welfare are concerned. It will also entail a paradigm shift when it comes to putting the needs of the animal as the number one priority for all livestock production systems.

Despite, all of the great advances that have been made in developing IT systems, it seems that farmers are still not doing enough to record and audit the day-to-day management of their farms.

Yes, there is sufficient record keeping to get producers over the line when it comes to a cross compliance inspection or a farm quality assurance assessment.

However, it is now widely believed that farmers must now go to the next level in genuinely auditing their businesses. In other words, they must make a benchmarking approach to the management of the daily target that is set for their businesses.

Only by having an accurate base line measure, where antimicrobial usage is concerned, can producers hope to secure meaningful reductions in application levels as they look to the future.

But the genuine need to get the levels of antimicrobial usage reduced within agriculture must not be used to overlook the fact that farmers and veterinarians must have continuing access to these products to treat genuinely sick animals.