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InFocus

Embracing data-led approaches to improve the responsible use of medicines

On-farm data should be used to accurately identify where improvements in cattle and sheep sectors can be made

Veterinary surgeons, together with the livestock industry from farm to fork, are familiar with recent statistics which show that since 2014, sales of antibiotics for UK farm animals have halved while sales of critically important products have fallen by 75 percent. It is also recognised that serious disease outbreaks can change national data to the detriment of the statistics but to the enhancement of animal welfare. Now the thrust is to identify actual on-farm usage. The pig and poultry industries have led the way, and during the COVID-19 crisis much work has been going on to develop the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s (AHDB) Hub for cattle and sheep; the website is now live and awaiting data.

On 18 November 2021, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance conference will be available online. Fresh targets for medicine use were set in 2020, and updates on progress will no doubt form part of the presentations. Materials are available to be downloaded, which may be of interest for veterinary practice newsletters. There will be great emphasis on the One Health linkage between animal and human health. The date is shared with European Antibiotic Awareness Day and is also the start of the World Antibiotic Awareness Week.

Leading up to the RUMA Conference will be the virtual Official Veterinarians (OV) Conference (28 to 30 September), British Cattle Veterinary Association (BVCA) Congress (14 to 16 October) and the British Mastitis Conference (10 November).

In 2020, the QuarterPRO scheme was launched, offering a pattern analysis tool to predict the main mastitis pattern within a herd

One of the significant falls in antibiotic sales for dairy herds has been in the use of drugs to control mastitis infections. In 2020, the QuarterPRO scheme was launched, offering a pattern analysis tool to predict the main mastitis pattern within a herd. This tool aims to help veterinary surgeons and advisors use appropriate resource material and optimise disease control in an ongoing manner, and to carry this out every three months. Further training to help the veterinary surgeon to work with the farmer is now available, and maximum use is to be made of milk recording data. This is one example of how on-farm data can be assessed to accurately identify where improvements can be made.

The Medicines Hub website offers four ways for data to be assimilated: the farmer can enter their own data, the vet can enter data on behalf of their client, data from farm software is able to be uploaded directly and data can come from retailers. There are some 80,000 producers invited to provide data.

Together with the numbers of animals on the farm, details of medicines used during the year are sought, and the past year’s data is also welcomed to provide a baseline against which improvements can be seen

Together with the numbers of animals on the farm, details of medicines used during the year are sought, and the past year’s data is also welcomed to provide a baseline against which improvements can be seen. The total medicine use, or a full medicine book or allocated purchased medicines, is sought, and external source software options are incorporated alongside Excel templates. The project brief is to make the process of data collection as user friendly as possible, but everyone involved recognises that there will be snags and errors.

Mandy Nevel, head of Animal Health and Welfare for the AHDB, indicated that the aim of the project is to collect “as much as possible as soon as possible”.

Use of the Hub is free, and an overarching aim is to support trade and enhance the reputation of the dairy, beef and lamb sectors. To provide confidence in the figures, a target of over 90 percent involvement from farms is identified. Many flocks and herds have a very low use of medicines, and so providing that data will be most helpful.

There are further ambitions for this project. Farmers will be able to receive data and compare their usage and application with other similar enterprises: something which already takes place within many veterinary practices, with clients who are embracing the benefits of sharing facts and outcomes. Building on this experience will expand the medicine usage discussion.

Farmers will be able to receive data and compare their usage and application with other similar enterprises: something which already takes place within many veterinary practices

Providing enterprise group reports and individual farm enterprise reports is being planned as part of the project. Mandy emphasises the benefits of benchmarking which is a recognised aid for farmers and vets from earlier work with pigs and poultry. A brief to the software developers was to enable an interchange with the Livestock Data Exchange Hub being developed, which would allow medicine treatments for individual cattle to be shared across the supply chain.

Other initiatives to help promote the responsible use of medicines in farm animal practice

Reducing antibiotic use is the generalised aim of sustainability efforts, but using antibiotics in a way that does not put future treatments at risk may be a more appropriate approach. There is much to be learnt and understood about drug resistance and transferable drug resistance. One of the benefits from the COVID-19 pandemic is that everyone has a better idea about infection, the changes that take place with organisms and the idea of waves of infection despite the application of known knowledge. The need for greater technical understanding has also been clearly demonstrated.

The Sustainable Farming Incentive

The fall in antibiotic use on farms in the UK is credited to a reduction and elimination of prophylactic and continual application. Preventing disease and improving farm management is now targeted by combining the skills of veterinary surgeons and farmers to maintain momentum around responsible use. It has been announced that the Sustainable Farming Incentive will be available from 2022. An annual veterinary surgeon visit is to be funded by DEFRA to provide a health and welfare review, and will be available to all commercial cattle, pig and sheep keepers. More information is anticipated, but the stated aim of the scheme is to provide “bespoke advice on health, welfare, biosecurity and responsible use of medicines” as well as “diagnostic testing for priority diseases or conditions” (DEFRA, 2021). Recommended actions are to be agreed between farmer and vet with a measurement of yearly progress.

It has been announced that the Sustainable Farming Incentive will be available from 2022. An annual veterinary surgeon visit is to be funded by DEFRA to provide a health and welfare review, and will be available to all commercial cattle, pig and sheep keepers

Farm Vet Champions

In Cattle Quarterly, the new BCVA e-magazine, Fiona Lovatt discussed the Farm Vet Champions initiative. Referring to this collaboration of a raft of organisations, Fiona states “collaboration was a no-brainer because our challenges are huge. The significance of a future where there is no antibiotic to turn to is so monumental that we can’t afford for this task to be waylaid or distracted by petty competition or rivalries. Working together will ensure the maximum impact in reducing antimicrobial resistance in the UK.”   

Fiona is a sheep vet and cautions about relying on numbers to indicate progress: “It is not so much how much we use in volume but how we use them that is important to consider. For example – a small dose to every neonatal lamb hardly shows on the mg/PCU [Population Correction Unit for animal numbers and weight] figure, but in terms of selecting for resistance it can be very significant.”

The project is led by RCVS Knowledge and funded by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Veterinary surgeons should register on the RCVS Knowledge website and all members of a practice can access over 20 hours of online training materials. All large animal vets can register as a farm vet champion, and there is no limitation of registrants from each practice.

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