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More and more milk buyers in the dairy sector are asking their farmer suppliers about antibiotic use on the farm.
And retailers need to take an active part in policy making and planning as part of shared stewardship responsibility with farmers to reduce antibiotic use and the threat of antibiotic resistance.
A survey by researchers at Bristol University for the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers found that 97 per cent of those questioned believed that the sector needed to take action and needed to be seen to be taking action to reduce antibiotic use on farm.
The survey showed that the vast majority of dairy farmers believe that the industry must take a proactive lead in the battle against antibiotic resistance.
Dr Kristen Reyher from the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences, who led the team conducting the study said that dairy farmers thought it would be possible to reduce antibiotic dry cow therapy use by about 30 per cent in the next five years.
Dr Reyher, senior lecturer in Farm Animal Science, said: “As well as this, reductions of 15 per cent in antibiotic use to treat calf diseases – most probably pneumonia and calf scour, and 20 per cent to treat clinical mastitis in milking cows are thought possible.
“Within this there is also scope to reduce the use of antibiotics considered critically important for human medicine.
“Reduction of critically important antimicrobials is something the University of Bristol has been working hard on, and over the past six years their farm animal practice has reduced prescribing of these critical antimicrobials, using none in recent years.
“There are big gains to be made, and the best way forward is to encourage farmers and vets to work closely together,” Dr Reyher said.
RABDF Council member and dairy farmer, Di Wastenage said the findings indicated that some of the motivation to reduce may coming down the supply chain. “Three-quarters of respondents in dairying said their milk purchaser was starting to ask about antibiotic use.
“Alongside this, 97 per cent thought the sector needed to be seen to be ‘doing its bit’ to tackle the issue, and 88 per cent agreed reductions needed to happen before they were forced to make them,” she explained.
Mrs Wastenage said the survey results would be fed into current farming industry initiatives to measure and reduce use of antibiotics, such as those being run by RUMA and CHAWG.
However, she said they also highlighted some important calls to action the RABDF itself would take forward, using its UK-wide reach and close connections with the wider dairy industry.
She said that it would be essential to form a database of present use of antimicrobials on farm so that farmers and the industry could see what is being used, for what purpose and to what degree.
With this information it would be possible to determine best and essential usage of antibiotics and help to reduce unnecessary use.
“Vets are also crucial in this conversation,” Mrs Wastenage said.
“The survey results indicate that there is space for vets to have greater input in this area.
“The survey also identified that 40 per cent of respondents in the dairy sector were recording medicines use electronically in some form already. It should be possible to migrate these records to a central system – something that will help CHAWG in its current investigations on how to gather data on use.”
Mrs Wastenage added that there were opportunities to look at the role dairy consultants could play, to incorporate modules to support the reduction of antibiotic use into RABDF training programmes and to promote the concept to BTEC and other training providers.
“It’s clear there is very good awareness of the threat. Now is the time to think big and be ambitious. The activities suggested in the survey include selective dry cow therapy, better uptake of vaccination, use of fever tags and thermal imaging, along with improving ventilation, housing and system design, so it would be interesting to explore these in more detail.
“The challenge remains of how to make reductions without impacting welfare.”
RABDF policy director Tim Brigstocke said that there has been a culture of blame surrounding the use of antibiotics for animals and antibiotic resistance in humans which is not accurate.
He said the industry was fully committed to “making things happen” to reduce antibiotic use.
“But we have to put in place systems to make sure it happens. We have to get our act together,” he said.