Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Antibiotics endgame - experts want to end to misuse in farming

Animal health experts are demanding urgent Government action to deal with the devastating consequences of antibiotic abuse in farming

Antibiotic prescriptions and usage need to electronically tracked say veterinary experts
Antibiotic prescriptions and usage need to electronically tracked say veterinary experts
Claire Mc Cormack

Claire Mc Cormack

Antibiotic misuse on intensive pig and poultry farms could force medicine back into the "dark ages", agri experts have warned.

As countries across the EU grapple with the ongoing threat of drug resistant infections, experts are calling on the Irish government to ramp up efforts in the agricultural sector.

Although the IFA stress that farmers and vets are following strict protocols to ensure the protection of the food chain, they acknowledge that stricter codes of practice in pigs would reduce the industry's reliance on antibiotics.

Last week, speakers from human and animal health sectors, gathered at a Department of Agriculture seminar to discuss what Irish farmers can do to reduce excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics to treat animal infections.

Although these medicines protect human and animal health, uncontrolled use is contributing to the emergence of resistant bacteria, or antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which poses a serious threat to disease control throughout the world.

Despite both the Government's commitment to tackling the issue - a Joint National Interdepartmental Antimicrobial Resistance Consultative Committee was established in 2014 - experts claim "we are still dragging our heels".

Antibiotics abuse on pig and poultry farms could have a devasting effect
Antibiotics abuse on pig and poultry farms could have a devasting effect

Seamus Fanning, Professor of Food Safety and the UCD Centre for Food Safety said: "If we don't take action here to protect the efficacy of our antimicrobial ingredients we may not be able to protect our animals in the future when they get infections."

Since 2009, Dutch farmers have cut animal antibiotic use by 60pc without harming either animal welfare or their own profits.

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"I just don't know why we are constantly dodging this issue and not taking it head on just like the Dutch and the Danes and coming up with systems that are better," he said.

The potential impact of antimicrobial resistance on the food industry is a concern. Resistant bacteria can spread from animals to humans through direct contact including environmental contamination and food-borne bacteria.

"If certain harmful bacteria makes its way through the food chain and becomes exposed to humans and they become ill as a result it may be extremely difficult to treat that infection using an antibiotic," he said.

"We don't know the relationship between the amount used and its effect in terms of the emergence of resistant bacteria because we're not measuring it," he said.

"This a huge societal issue. We're potentially looking at putting medicine back into the dark ages if we lose these compounds. It means there will be infections we may not be able to treat in a year's time which we can treat today," he said," he said.

The highest global incidence of AMR is associated with the pig and poultry industry where animals are reared very closely together leading to major opportunity for disease pressure and higher use of antibiotics.

Last week, a UK report showed increasing antibiotic resistance in bacteria commonly found in retail poultry - especially chicken and turkey. The findings have led to calls for better AMR surveillance in the food chain - a viewed shared here.

Nola Leonard, Associate Professor in Veterinary Microbiology at UCD said: "In order to identify the extent of the problem we need effective surveillance and electronic recording of prescriptions and usage," she said.

For farmers, improving management and hygiene, using more vaccines and ensuring housing conditions are above board will help reduce risk.

Tim Cullinane, former chairman of the IFA Pigs Committee said: "we are trying to use less antibiotics but it is a challenge. My major concern is lax codes around importing live pigs. We need a standard code of practice to protect our herds".

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