A business model for Ireland’s Animal Health strategic success


Is Ireland further along the road to achieving the Animal Health strategy than people realise?

Media coverage this week highlighted the launch by Ireland’s Department of Agriculture Food & Marine (DAFM) of a National Farmed Animal Health Strategy.  It sets out a comprehensive vision to take the farmed animal industry to 2022 and follows  a consultative process carried out in 2016. The contributions received by the department are available and are as interesting as the finished document because they  clearly show common concerns, some shared frustrations and the committed focus to excellence by influential actors in the farmed animal industry in Ireland.

There are two strategic objectives with which VirtualVet can be of assistance to the delivery of this vision: Data collection & management and business model & funding.

Data collection & management

In the documents we reviewed there was only passing reference to the EU Animal Health Law, passed by the European Parliament in March 2016. This law encourages member states to incorporate technology in the near real-time monitoring and surveillance of animal drug usage and disease.
VirtualVet currently provides a service to farmers which, in near real-time, digitises animal drug usage and  animal health data and information. This is a costly and labour intensive service, but the value of the data and information collected cannot be underestimated in the context of the stated objectives of both the EU Animal Health Law and DAFM’s national strategy.  We believe that there is a role for such an administrative service acting as a trusted interface with farmers making their information available, in near real-time, to nominated and appropriate bodies. As a simple example, we capture drug usage administered by animal ID.  This is easily available to the prescribing veterinary practices to complete their records, complying more easily with the veterinary medicine directive and other important reporting requirements.

Our data management and terms of service are compliant with GDPR. We follow best advice from digital economy experts, resisting the urge to become a single, central data base, instead focused on becoming a platform through which many actors can access specific information in a specific area – for example, we do not capture fertility information – others do this excellently already. Digital and privacy experts cast doubts on the safety and appropriateness of large, centralised, single databases preferring a distributed model. In farmed animal health, VirtualVet provides a piece of a distributed puzzle.

Data Silos in farmed animal health

Data Silos in Farmed Animal Health

But we also provide a way for Ireland and EU member states to meet the growing demand for near real-time antibiotic and antimicrobial usage information, currently articulated in the European Medicines Agency’s open consultation on data collection led by the The European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption (ESVAC). VirtualVet’s focus is on contributing to the security and sustainability of farmed animal agriculture. Our focus is on enabling farming families comply with important and evolving legislative requirements in as easy and effective a manner as possible.

Finally and importantly, introducing a commercial aspect to data collection and exchange is often pitched against calls for important information to be made “open”. Before we describe the advantages of the commercial approach below, we would warn against a belief in the utter superiority of open data. Unless properly managed, used and contextualised, these data-sets can lead to issues, and do not always respect the rights of those generating those data:

Ethical and data sharing rules were always in the mind of the individual and the culture of the community before the appearance of digital networks. Now we try to include these rules in systems or advocate open data and systems. In fact, the jury is out on what to do, as appears from ongoing discussions.  For example, Johnson[3] warns those who unconditionally advocate the use of open data that this can lead to injustice and unfairness through biased data and data modelling decisions.

From: Democracy in a complex digital world

Business model & funding

 In various representations and in the strategy document itself, there is a recognition of the advantages of a collaborative approach to funding the new national farmed animal health strategy:
The strategic vision aims that “…the costs of livestock health programmes and disease response efforts are appropriately balanced between industry stakeholders and the taxpayer.”
( page 14)
VirtualVet has spent years researching and designing our multi-sided business model. Earlier this year we co-hosted AHEAD 2017 in Exeter, during which Dr Pat Lynch of Waterford Institute of Technology highlighted the need for the animal health and agri-food industries to realise the opportunities digital technology and ubiquitous smartphones  present to farmers’ ability to generate economic value from their on-farm data. Examples, such as Farmers Business Network have proven the growing expectation among farmers and their representative bodies, to ensure a fair exchange for their data, information and knowledge.
In the farmed animal industry, there are a number of potential customers for on-farm drug usage and animal health information; meat & dairy processor, the pharmaceutical manufacturers, research and surveillance agencies and organisations, competent authorities…etc.
It makes sense to capture information from as wide a farmer base as possible, to reduce duplication of approaches, and to make make data available on demand to relevant and appropriate bodies, sharing the cost across all actors – not just the taxpayer.  Out sourcing the data collection  to a commercial entity which delivers value back to the farmers providing these data will enable experts within, for example surveillance agencies, to monitor in near real-time a wider range of farms, spotting trends earlier and identifying outliers which may require more specialised intervention.
VirtualVet is happy to be the animal health data collection functionality offered through existing and established farm management software solutions and dashboards. Our multi-sided business model demonstrates a willingness to create economic value for the widest range of actors possible in the farmed animal industry, while sharing the costs.

Ireland as leader in digitising animal health data

 Ireland has achieved hard-earned, globally recognised success in agri-food exports. VirtualVet is working on behalf of farmers to ensure the wider industry and its governance, research and economic success is underpinned by the greatest level of near real-time, digital surveillance currently available and deployed.