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Good Progress Made in Reducing Farm Antibiotic Use

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Positive progress continues to be made in raising awareness of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and the drive to reduce antibiotic use in livestock.

AMR is classed as a ‘One Health’ challenge and described by the World Health Organisation as an issue where “without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.”

The theme for the WAAW 2023 global campaign is ‘preventing antimicrobial resistance together’, and the latest UK reports demonstrate how the farming industry is coming together to raise awareness of AMR and promote best practices to reduce the need to use antibiotics and anthelmintics.

Through its workstreams, the award-winning Arwain DGC (Defnydd Gwrthficrobaidd Cyfrifol / Responsible Antimicrobial Use) programme helps vets, farmers and horse owners address the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by reducing the need to use antibiotics – work which is contributing towards achieving the UK’s AMR goals.

Earlier this month, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) published its latest Targets Task Force (TTF) 2 progress report and charts “yet another positive year for UK agriculture in the responsible use of antibiotics.”

In situations where antibiotics are necessary, RUMA says they should be delivered under the mantra of ‘as little as possible, as much as necessary’.

RUMA says the TTF targets continue to be “largely exceeded, met or on track.” Also, where antibiotics have been needed to address disease outbreak, it has been isolated and dealt with in a “responsible, effective and efficient manner.”

Also recently released is the Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s (VMD) UK-Veterinary Antibiotic Resistance Sales Surveillance (2022) Report, which shows that UK antibiotic sales for food-producing animals have reduced by 59% since 2014, to 25.7 mg/kg – which represents the lowest sales to date.

A vital part of the Arwain DGC programme has been establishing a network of Proof of Concept (PoC) farms, where new technology is trialled alongside best practice methods to reduce antimicrobial use. The information is shared with farmers Wales-wide to demonstrate how such activities could benefit their enterprises and help combat AMR.

At Upper House farm in Powys, new technology and a Targeted Selective Treatment (TST) approach to anthelmintic use have positively affected animal health and saved money.

The Davies family are using new technology to make the most of EID by assessing lambs’ daily live-weight (DLWG) gain to undertake a more targeted approach to their anthelmintic use.

Routine faecal egg count (FEC) testing is undertaken to ascertain if drenching is required – a move that has reduced anthelmintic use, and on-farm technology is used to record instances of lameness.

They also use a Farm IT 3-way drafting weigh crate and record and monitor the TruTest XR5000 weigh head results. A TePari smart dosing gun is connected to the weigh crate and weigh head, ensuring each animal gets the correct dose quantity each time, avoiding unnecessary overdosing. Using the gun during 2022 saved the farm over £100 in dosing costs.

By recording individual animals’ health and productivity, the farm has seen a 23% reduction in antibiotic use since 2021, taking the average usage in 2022 to 3.8mg/kg.

Gareth Davies says,

“Fewer antibiotics means less costs and reduced labour in treatment. Importantly, it means that we are slowing down resistance not just on our farm but on other farms and ultimately human health.”

He also hopes that being a PoC farm and demonstrating the work carried out “will show the general public that the industry is a responsible industry when it comes to antibiotic use and is doing everything that it can to protect critically important antibiotics for the public health.”

North Wales farmer Dafydd Jones has been using a Micron kit to perform FEC tests and EID Tru-Test technology to record his lambs’ DLWG to implement a TST strategy at his family’s farm near Corwen.

Samples are taken from those lambs that haven’t reached sufficient weight or present with faecal matter around the tail area, with anthelmintic treatment determined by the faecal burden.

Combining this with regular weighing, this approach has identified those lambs that require intervention. After weaning, those gaining <150g/day are drenched, and FEC testing is carried out on those achieving a DLWG of 150-250g/day, while lambs gaining >250g/day do not receive any anthelmintic treatment.

Dafydd says,

“Reducing antimicrobials is very important to us, and we wanted to drive our business in a better direction, become more efficient and improve the health of our livestock.

Since making these changes and using technology, we’ve reduced our anthelmintic use and have found the lambs have been staying on track longer and going off to slaughter faster. Our animals are thriving, which in turn benefits productivity and costs.”

Yesterday, Arwain DGC Veterinary Development Manager Dr Gwen Rees took part in a panel discussion titled ‘Super drugs vs Superbugs – Is the UK making progress against the threat of AMR?’ at the British Veterinary Association's Annual congress at the London Vet Show alongside representatives from RUMA, the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics and the NHS.

She said the pioneering work being carried by vets and farmers in Wales is making an important contribution to raising awareness of AMR and is having a positive impact on antimicrobial use and animal health.

She said,

“It is encouraging to see progress being made in recording and benchmarking overall antimicrobial use, as highlighted in the latest RUMA Targets Task Force Report.

“The theme of WAAW is ‘preventing antimicrobial resistance together’, and we are proud of the role that Arwain DGC plays in promoting responsible antimicrobial use in cattle and sheep in Wales, and look forward to building on the successes so far.”

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