New app gives farmers direct role in tackling drug resistance

Virtual vet developer Sinead Quealy, her husband Patrick and their daughter Jo on the family farm in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford
Virtual vet developer Sinead Quealy, her husband Patrick and their daughter Jo on the family farm in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

A Waterford farmer has turned to technology in a bid to fight one of modern agriculture's greatest threats.

Having worked for Waterford IT for eight years on IT and agri-related projects, Sinead Quealy realised that increased animal resistance to antibiotics was a major issue on farms.

She also noticed that while at work she could use technology to deal with paperwork, the same couldn't be said for the mountain of farm paperwork she dealt with in the evenings on the Kilmacthomas farm where she lived with her husband Patrick and their daughter Jo.

In an effort to face the issue of anti-microbial resistance head on and allow farmers to manage the doses of medicines they administered to their animals more easily, Sinead set up Virtual Vet - an app and a service that farmers can use to record the medicine dosages they give to their herd.

"It's a free service. We have an android app where farmers can take a photograph of what they've given the animal and put in a note, or they can send it to us by email or text, whatever is comfortable to them. It will be recorded to their log-in account and to the animal's tag number," says Sinead.

While some people are happy to categorise anti-microbial resistance as a problem of the future, Sinead says that it's very much a "problem of the present".

"The most common complaint of people raising the issue of anti-microbial resistance is the lack of usage data available. Some governments get the data on sales of antibiotics from pharmaceutical companies or from prescriptions, but what's prescribed versus what gets in to the animal can vary.

"It's not a problem of the future. It's a cost of now. Already some antibiotics aren't working in the poultry, pig and dairy sectors. In the case of zoonotic diseases that can transfer from animals to humans, it poses a huge risk," she stresses.

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Sinead said that people in the industry often blame farmers for not being open when it comes to the antibiotics they give to their animals, but from her work over the last number of years, she thinks the opposite is true.

"What we've learned is that farmers are open to telling us information," says Sinead." They're not wary. They're aware of the need to get better treatment. They trust us to record and report too. The farmer isn't the problem.

"There's a reluctance amongst the large industry to embrace it, even though departments of agriculture are aware of the risks, and EU animal health law encourages near real-time recording of antibiotic dosage.

"Meat processors and pharmaceutical companies think it's somebody else's problem rather than learning about it."

While older farmers are not noted for being lovers of new technology, Sinead said that if they can use other internet sites, then Virtual Vet will not be a problem.

"If farmers can use or Done Deal they can use our app, there isn't an issue there," she says. "In terms of the age profile, we find it is the older farmer that has the time to be looking at this type of stuff and it is the younger son or daughter who is running the farm that doesn't have the time to be doing this."

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