Just because the poultry and pig industries have managed to accumulate their medicines data into a central database does not mean that the cattle and sheep industries will see the benefits and do likewise. But they have, and they do. The Medicine Hub not only allows those in the pig and poultry industry to know what is being used but, as the data has been assembled into enterprise groups, benchmarking and good practice can be circulated to enable a reduction in antibiotic administration.
Anyone working in the beef and sheep sector will know there is a wide range of approaches to managing the difficult process that is birth to the final product. There are perhaps 80,000 enterprises, but no one is exactly sure because of mixed production; however, significant targets have been set. Two years from now, it is expected that 95 percent of dairy herds in the UK will have submitted data to the Medicine Hub. By the same date, 8,000 beef and sheep farmers are expected to have added their information. Some see these figures as ambitious targets that are out of reach, but the initial signs truly are positive.
Two years from now, it is expected that 95 percent of dairy herds in the UK will have submitted data to the Medicine Hub
Veterinary practice and the Medicine Hub
Farmer usage data is being entered for 2021, and by early June 2022, over 250 veterinary surgeons have registered to participate – more will now be on board. Veterinary surgeon participation is a key element pushing towards the success of the project.
Enabling a veterinary practice to access the data from clients with minimum fuss has been occupying technical minds. Trial runs have ironed out some of the hitches, but not all, so input from veterinary surgeons over any difficulties with data transfer is actively sought. The various producer platforms record information in different formats, but the technically minded have been weaving a way through known difficulties. As more people engage with the Medicine Hub, there are expected to be avenues not previously noted, but no one is expected to battle the glitches alone.
It is recognised that much of the data that would be helpful is already recorded on-farm, but it is not collated. Within veterinary practices there have been gatherings of clients to review performance and learn from one another, with the vet acting as the conduit. The Medicine Hub is intended to be an extension of that success. It will not only collect and collate data but route it back to enable all involved to be better informed, make evidence-based decisions and monitor progress. There has to be a substantial volume of data to work with in order to consider trends, so the 2021 data needs to be boosted by data collected in 2022. An assessment thereafter will have real worth.
[The Medicine Hub] will not only collect and collate data but route it back to enable all involved to be better informed, make evidence-based decisions and monitor progress
Data gathering is for the whole of the UK, and there are many sheep and beef producers in Wales and Scotland, with producer groups collecting medicine usage and forwarding it to the Hub. A quick look at the Medicine Hub website reveals the steps that are being taken to protect the data and the permissions required for farm information to be released. Such permissions can be reviewed and revoked. So, for example, if a farmer gives consent for a veterinary practice to collect their data for the Hub and then the farmer changes practice there need be no interruption to the process. This means the benefits of engaging with the Hub continue unhindered.
Opportunities going forward
There is a burst of information planned to aid the farmer–veterinary relationship over the coming months. Videos for farmers, testimonies from farmers and vets, online training and an instructional video targeted at Farm Vet Champions are all in hand. Individual support is also available email or telephone 02477 719414) from a bureau.
On Friday 21 October 2022, as part of the British Cattle Veterinary Association Congress, a workshop is planned to encompass cattle and sheep Medicine Hub issues. Further information is available from the BCVA office, but the intention of the event is to discuss how data enters the Hub and how to make use of the data that comes out.
There will also be sessions on the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway. The Hub and the Pathway are seen as interacting with one another: initial Pathway visits may enable involvement between a client, their veterinary practice and the Medicine Hub, but as time goes on the Hub’s feedback will provide real information to aid on-farm management. It is intended that veterinary visits as part of the Pathway will boost Hub engagement and that the 2023 visits will enable current and earlier data to populate the hub. The identified figures for engagement are based on the industry-agreed Responsible Use of Medicines Alliance (RUMA) numbers set by the various sector target task forces. Each task force has considerable veterinary input, together with knowledgeable groups and individuals. The targets are not set in stone, but they are more than a best-guess approach and experience over the coming months and years will dictate eventual outcomes.
What’s to fear?
So, who’s afraid of the Medicine Hub? The reasons for developing the Hub include customer, retailer and processor confidence in quality products, demonstrating UK production standards to facilitate trade deals with international partners and assisting farmers to achieve a reduction in medicine use through improved management. One of the eventualities to be guarded against is the potential for the whole exercise to turn into a mishmash of data that proves and provides nothing. The ruminant sector is not thought to be a high user of medicines, but thinking and proving are rather different.
A further aspect that supporters of the Medicine Hub are highlighting is that the UK has decided to adopt a voluntary approach to standards, whereas other production areas are taking the legislative route. If the Hub is successful in recruiting farmers and vets, collecting and collating data and enabling farmers to apply evidence-based solutions, the voluntary approach will be seen to be successful, which is expected to influence other initiatives.
One of the eventualities to be guarded against is the potential for the whole exercise to turn into a mishmash of data that proves and provides nothing
Also of concern is the suggestion that by pushing the aims of the Hub, the reduction in the use of antibiotics could go too far. Veterinary surgeons who have used broad-spectrum antibiotics routinely where a specific diagnosis is dubious have an opinion on how rapidly the disease situation was resolved. If by replacing antibiotic cover with, perhaps, anti-inflammatories, the client complains of extended periods of disease or failure of treatment, the Hub concept may be challenged. In the current era of reduction and minimal use of antibiotics, active awareness of performance appears important. Increasing the use of vaccines has been highlighted and hard information on the benefits within the uncertainties of animal production looking ahead is anticipated.
The whole question of antibiotic resistance threatening nations and the evolution of superbugs also demands accurate assessment. It is encouraging that veterinary practices are not sitting back and hoping that someone else will drive the Medicine Hub.