Medicine Hub (MH) case study – a sheep farmer perspective

Medicine Hub (MH) is a safe, secure, and independent database to collect and report antibiotic data for UK sheep, dairy and beef farms. It has been developed and is managed by AHDB on behalf of the industry: Medicine Hub. 

The RUMA Targets Task Force (TTF) worked with sector representatives to set ambitious targets for the collection of data and the dissemination of knowledge to vets and farmers. MH enables the UK dairy, beef and sheep sectors to measure and monitor antibiotic use in order to prove its responsible use credentials to the public, the supply chain and to competitors and customers around the world.

Launching such an important industry tool is no mean feat and getting user feedback to not only continue to strengthen its functionality, but crucially now that it is launched, ensure farmers work with their vets to use it, is vital.

One user who has played a key role in using MH during both the test phase and now that it is live, is North Devon sheep farmer and former Chairman, now Vice President of the National Sheep Association (NSA), Bryan Griffiths and his wife Liz, who farm more than 300 acres near Burrington. Their flock comprises 850 Mule and Suffolk cross breeding sheep alongside 30 finishing cattle.

Bryan and Liz have always focused on conventional beef and lamb production, selling finished stock through live markets and direct to abattoirs. Their ongoing enthusiasm for a deeper understanding of livestock production has led to their involvement in many tests, trials and research projects, including the earliest beginnings of faecal egg counting, commercial drug trials, benchmarking, the Sustainable Farming Initiative (SFI) pilot and supporting MH user testing. Bryan and Liz were involved in the trial of MH before its launch and provided valuable feedback to help ensure it was user friendly for vets and farmers.

Bryan says: “The UK sheep industry has found itself in a time of uncertainty recently with worries over future trade, changes to agricultural and environmental policy and when it comes to antibiotics, not being able to robustly evidence its claims of being a low user. That’s why Medicine Hub is a much-needed tool for the sheep sector, and it is important that data is now uploaded, in volume, onto the system.

“Producers in the UK adhere to some of the most rigorous and robust production standards and work hard to achieve high levels of health and welfare as well as responsible antibiotic use. But until now, there has been no central resource for building a picture of antibiotic use at a national level.”

Bryan, who has been involved with the NSA for over thirty years, continues: “Recording antibiotic use will prove the integrity of the responsible use we are claiming. The ruminant sector must be able to defend its own reputation with tangible facts. The average sheep farmer believes they are a responsible user, but just saying that isn’t sufficient to defend ourselves and the wider industry. Medicine Hub is our opportunity to collect this evidence.  We use it here on our farm and are proud that our data is helping to develop that all important national picture.”

Talking about the importance of the vet-farmer relationship when it comes to using MH, Liz says: “We have always had a close relationship with our vet and that really matters, because this isn’t just about farmers working in isolation when it comes to using Medicine Hub.

“Farmers can work with their vet to input data onto Medicine Hub. Vets can help with supplying the numbers needed and can play a part in actually uploading data. For this year we have entered data onto Medicine Hub ourselves, but in the future as the system develops, we will give permission for our vet to upload our antibiotic data direct from dispensing records. It is hoped in the future the hub will be able to accept data from farmers, direct from vets, or farm software, at the press of a button subject to essential permissions.”

Farmers retain full control over their data. They have to grant permission to their vet to upload data on their behalf. Only the farmer and their vet can access their account and the information it contains; beyond that, anything reported by Medicine Hub is aggregated and anonymised. It is always controlled by the farmer and will only be shared onwards if specific permission is given for that to happen.

Bryan adds “We need to ensure the responsible use of antibiotics. This does not automatically mean using less but adhering to the principle of as little as possible but as much as is necessary – welfare standards should never be compromised.

“The ongoing development of Medicine Hub will aid the defence of the livestock sector’s reputation and help protect antibiotics for human use in the future.”

Medicine Hub is an industry-wide initiative supported by industry representative organisations, milk buyers, food processors, retailers and the veterinary profession. It was developed by AHDB at the request of industry.

For more information visit: Medicine Hub