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Antimicrobial Resistance Study Begins on Welsh Farms

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Bacterial sampling is now underway to assess the abundance and types of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in bacteria on Welsh dairy, beef and sheep farms.

The study, which researchers at the University of Bristol are coordinating, is part of Arwain DGC – a project designed to help combat antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in animals and the environment in Wales.

Launched last year, Arwain DGC aims to reduce the need to use antimicrobials such as antibiotics by improving productivity, animal health and welfare through new and innovative technology and ‘good practice’.

Data obtained by analysing environmental faecal samples from a selected group of Welsh farms over 12 months will assist researchers in learning more about what factors are associated with AMR on farms. These data will also help inform the design of a robust AMR surveillance system for Wales in the future.

Participating farms have volunteered to be part of the study and the samples and information from accompanying farmer questionnaires – along with data on antimicrobial sales to the farm – are anonymised. A core of 50 farms (20 dairy, ten beef, ten sheep, and ten beef/sheep farms) from across Wales have been recruited.

Environmental faecal samples are taken monthly from various locations on each farm by vets from 14 veterinary practices involved in the study. Samples are taken from areas such as animal housing, collection yards, pens and pasture.

The samples are then cultured to identify the presence of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which are used in such studies to give an indication of the level of AMR on each farm.

The study is led by Professors Kristen Reyher and Matthew Avison from the University of Bristol, who lead Bristol AMR.

Matthew Avison, Professor of Molecular Bacteriology in Bristol’s School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, said:

“Sample collection started in mid-April, and we are very pleased with how it is going. Farmers have been engaging well with the study, and we are very grateful to them and the vets who have important relationships with the farms and are out collecting the monthly samples.

“Over the next 12 months, we aim to get a cross-section of animal samples – young, old, mixed species – to give us a ‘real-time’ picture of what is happening on farms at different points throughout the year.

“From our previous experience sampling dairy farms in the southwest of England, we know that, in February, there is very little AMR on farms, but in September, it is easily detectable. However, we have not sampled beef and sheep farms before, so to start seeing the samples come in is exciting.”

He added,

“We hope this work will be used as evidence to recommend to Welsh Government how best to take samples from farms to look at AMR should they ever want to introduce a surveillance system.”

Kristen Reyher, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Population Health at Bristol Veterinary School, added:

“Farmers and vets have done so much together in the last few years to ensure they are being good stewards of important medicines like antibiotics. Our work comparing their antibiotic use and other management factors with the AMR we find on farms continues to help us unpick the relationships between what happens on farms and in the environment as well as better understand the selection and transmission of AMR. The Arwain DGC project is a great example of Wales leading the way on providing important information about AMR to the world, and we stand ready to get to work on these data that are now rolling in.”

A video outlining the bacterial sampling study can be viewed here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vh_3hrEWpi0

Arwain DGC is closely aligned to the Welsh Government’s five-year AMR in Animals and the Environment Implementation Plan (2019 – 2024). This project has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.