Data collection is one of the main challenges for the ruminant sectors as RUMA Chair, Cat McLaughlin, explains: “Collation of robust data remains a priority especially in the ruminant sectors. Industry level data and figures are essential to illustrate the general direction of travel with antibiotic use, but farm level data is also vital and empowers farmers to own their own goals and targets to achieve realistic and sustainable levels of responsible use. We know the importance of data to help give a full and robust picture; this has been demonstrated already in the Pig (eMB-Pigs (ahdb.org.uk) and Poultry sectors where data has helped shape their reduction journeys.
“Evidence from the limited usage data available for the ruminant sectors, plus anecdotal insights from the veterinary profession for cattle and sheep, suggest that all ruminant sectors are comparatively low users of antibiotics. We need to understand more about where the pockets of use are focused and help these producers address their underlying disease challenges.”
In answer to the challenge of getting data for the ruminant sectors, Mark Jelley, Beef Farmer and Chair of the Cattle Antibiotic Guardian Group, says: “It’s quite simple really and comes down to the sheer size and scale of the ruminant sectors. We have the largest number of producers and so data collection, which is key to helping understand antibiotic use and developing targets, is naturally going to be a bigger challenge compared to smaller sectors. Watch Mark’s video here.
“To date, we have had fragmented data which is held in different formats, so trying to gain a coherent view of all data for the beef, dairy and sheep sectors has been difficult and somewhat challenging. That is why work has been underway to develop key initiatives to make data capture much easier and more cohesive. We now have the Medicine Hub (MH Medicine Hub for dairy, beef and sheep farmers | AHDB), a web-based recording system developed by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) which is designed to make it as easy as possible to capture data. The aim of the Medicine Hub is to provide a national picture of antibiotic use data and will enable us to compare across sectors. It should allow farmers and vets to understand what is going on across individual farms and provide a national picture too. The tool is available for farmers to use right now – I’ve used it myself and it is really straightforward. We know we are relatively low users of antibiotics but we can’t demonstrate it so the Medicine Hub will give us that all important evidence we need. That evidence will also help to reassure consumers that we are low users, and it will help highlight the UK’s high health and welfare standards.
“The concept behind the Medicine Hub has achieved widespread support and it is hoped this will become the primary data hub for collating existing and inputting new ruminant antibiotic usage data, so we have everything in one place. Avoiding duplication of inputting effort is key.
“There is also the FarmAssist Scheme (Farm Assist (farmassistnml.co.uk), which captures antibiotic use for participating milk processors, vets and producers, which is an excellent resource to describe the use of antibiotics on dairy herds in Great Britain. Initiatives like the Farm Assist Scheme, alongside the recently launched Medicine Hub, will prove invaluable in helping to put the right plans in place to achieve the reduction targets over the coming years.”
The Farm Vet Champions (Farm Vet Champions – RCVS Knowledge) initiative was also launched last year. It is a major collaborative project designed to unite and empower UK farm animal veterinary practitioners as they establish good antimicrobial stewardship in practices and on farms. The project has brought together major UK specialised veterinary and agriculture organisations to develop free learning materials for farm veterinary professionals to improve animal health and welfare standards and provide positive inspiration and leadership towards antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The project supports agricultural veterinary professionals to continue to improve animal health and welfare standards and aims to provide positive inspiration and leadership towards One Health efforts.
Finally, there is the Government Animal Health Pathway which gets underway this year. Cats says: “This will be a new and fresh way to support farmers and vets to come together and tackle the disease challenges on the farm. It will help build closer working relationships between vets and farmers, with an ability to identify the specific disease challenges on farms. The anticipated benefits of health and welfare improvements on farms include the potential reduction for the need for antibiotic treatments, as well as benefitting the government’s productivity strategy, as healthy animals are productive animals.”
In summary, Cat says: “Having data to build the picture of antibiotic use for a sector is really important at two levels; nationally, it helps to show the trend of antibiotic use in the sector, and at a farm level, once data becomes available, it offers an opportunity for producers to use their medicine data as a management discussion tool. Data helps galvanise both industry activity and farm level discussions and it is clear to see that although the ruminant sectors are playing catch up in terms of national data collation, there is no shortage of commitment and initiatives in place to drive positive change.”