UK dairy farmers urged to monitor and manage antibiotic use

16-08 | |
While antibiotics have a role in managing the health of animals, it is important to understand what is being used and what rate and in which categories of animals. Photo: Hans Prinsen
While antibiotics have a role in managing the health of animals, it is important to understand what is being used and what rate and in which categories of animals. Photo: Hans Prinsen

Milk producers are being urged to join a new industry-wide initiative that is gathering medicine use data from UK cattle enterprises to help compared usage and tackle antimicrobial resistance.

The initiative, which has been adopted by the Responsible Use of Antibiotics in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) and has the support of milk buyers, food processors, retailers and the veterinary profession, has set a target for 95% of dairy farmers to report antibiotics use by 2024 to the new Medicine Hub. This will help the UK meet EU requirements for national antibiotic reporting for cattle by 2024.

Ambitious but realistic

Mandy Nevel, head of animal health and welfare at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) said the target was ambitious but realistic, as long as the industry acted now.

“Producers in the UK work hard to achieve high levels of health and welfare, while using antibiotics responsibly; something the industry is rightly proud of. However, even though individual farms must record medicine use, until now there has been no central online resource for doing so at a national level.

“Knowing what we are using at a national level is increasingly important for our domestic and international markets and Medicine Hub will allow the industry to do this and to defend its reputation.

While antibiotics have a role in managing the health of animals, Nevel said it was important to understand what is being used and what rate and in which categories of animals.

Permission for data

One way of getting farm data on the hub is from vet practice software/records, but only after producers have given the appropriate permission to their veterinary practice.

“It is possible for farmers to register on the Hub and upload data, but it is easier to get your vet practice or other large data holder with whom your farm business shared medicine data to do this for you,” she added.

Information will only be reported by Medicine Hub as aggregated, anonymised data and only the account holder and the practice will be able to look in detail at the farm account. Data will only be shared further if permission is asked and granted.

Pressure across Europe

Pressure is growing across Europe for better reporting of antibiotic use. Across the agriculture sector, the UK is the fifth lowest use of antibiotics in food-producing animals in Europe but more evidence is being asked for each sector.

One benefit for dairy farmers will be their ability to compare their farm with similar holdings.

The UK dairy industry is in a reasonable position regarding the use of antibiotics. A report from consultant Kingshay earlier this year found that 79% of herds met the RUMA 2020 target by March 2021 of 21mg/kg PCU, with the decline in use of critically important antimicrobials outstanding, seeing a drop from 1.1 mg/kg PCU in 2018 to 0,02 mg/kg PCU in 2021.

However, it indicates an opportunity for the further uptake of teat sealant use as part of selective dry cow therapy, according to report author Christina Ford.

The Hub has the backing of Tesco’s agriculture manager for dairy and beef Tom Atkins, who said the supermarket was a strong supporter: “We’ve encouraged all of our Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group (TSDG) farmers to use it. By reporting their usage, TSDG farmers are helping to drive industry changes in the responsible use and reduction of antibiotics.”

The British Cattle Veterinary Association added: “The Medicines Hub enables the UK dairy, beef and sheep sectors to measure and monitor antibiotic use to prove our credentials to the public, the supply chain and to competitors and customers around the world.”

The dairy sector is following in the footsteps in the UK pig industry, which started sharing its data with an online hub in 2016. More than 95% of medicines are now recorded.

McDougal
Tony McDougal Freelance journalist
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