A how-to guide for addressing overuse of antibiotics on-farm

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

This week (12th – 18th November 2018) is the World Health Organisation’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week.

While there is no denying the work being carried out by many organisations, groups, institutions and individuals in the fight to save antibiotics, at VirtualVet we are still frustrated with the lack of impact on the ground.

Every day we have conversations with farmers unsure about the risks and impacts of their on-farm usage of antibiotics. We meet vets frustrated at gaps in surveillance which allow room for bad practice. We talk to government officials grappling with trying to design the implementation of a new policy, aware that the existing policy is not sufficiently enforced. We have spoken to food industry executives and met with pharmaceutical management teams fearful, interested, but resistant to real engagement.

How to start reducing antibiotic usage in agriculture

So where do we go from here? It’s clear, even after a five minute read of WHO‘s reasons for World Antibiotics Awareness Week, that people are dying, in their thousands, each year across Europe, due to antimicrobial resistance. Yet there is this remarkable sense of detachment evident in too many in the value chain. Te get us out of this tail spin, we propose the following actions for the following cohorts:

Farmers: Talk to your vet, meaningfully.  Vaccinations cost money, but when antibiotics don’t work it costs lives. Human lives. Lives in your community and (hopefully not) your family. Ask your vet to come and prepare a health plan with you. Pay for their time and service. ….and act on their advice, otherwise it’s a waste of both!

Vets: Use data when talking to your farmers. They are stressed, frustrated, worried, and often blamed for everything that’s wrong with the world from obesity, to climate change – so be mindful of their pressures. They are also suspicious of vaccinations and forgetful of just how much antibiotics they used in the last year, so arm yourself with information, and talk about them specifically.

Government: embrace digital and don’t hide behind data protection. GDPR gives a framework for using data – it was not designed to be used as an excuse to make data die.

Agri-food industry: Waiting won’t make the issue go away.

Pharmaceutical companies: real-world trials are a thing.  Farmers need confidence in vaccinations and this confidence can be increased through sample sizes of more than 1 farm! Too many reports, advertisements and spiels are issued on small samples which encourages cynicism. If you want to sell more vaccines, make an effort to find out if they are working in the real-world.

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