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'Antibiotics have masked disease challenges'

14th Dec 2018 / By Alistair Driver

For decades antibiotics have masked an array of disease challenges on UK pig farms, NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford observed as she outlined the findings of her Nuffield Scholarship. 

Georgina Nuffield confAHDB Pork sponsored her scholarship into how antibiotics are used on farms around the world. Writing about the report on its website, the levy body said the topic has never been more important topic than it is today, which makes the findings of Georgina's scholarship of great interest and importance to the agricultural sector.

In a report that she unveiled at the Nuffield conference in Glasgow last month, Georgina details her findings on antibiotic use in pig production from seven countries around the world, as well as the UK. She explores methods of engaging farmers and encouraging behavioural change.

She said: “For decades, antibiotics have masked an array of disease challenges on UK pig farms and this has resulted in a lack of focus and resource being directed towards effective disease prevention.”

The UK pig industry has already reduced its antibiotic usage by over half in the last two years, with AHDB’s electronic medicine book (eMB) for recording antibiotic use playing a big part of the process.

She explained, however, that the aim should not be to achieve zero use of antibiotics in pig production, or simply to reduce the use of antibiotics. The focus should be on reducing the need for and optimising the use of antibiotics.

Another key area highlighted in the report is behaviour change. Georgina recommends that pig farmers should be encouraged to implement the necessary practices for improved infection prevention through participatory, farmer-led initiatives and behavioural nudge techniques.

Dr Crayford added: “Framing the problem in a different, more personal way can help farmers to understand why tackling antibiotic resistance should be made a priority.”

Participatory and farmer-led discussions, as opposed to a top-down approach, have proven to be a successful method of bringing about behaviour change, as they provide farmers with an opportunity to learn from each other and hold each other to account.

Among the closing recommendations of the report, she urges pig farmers to evaluate the cost of antibiotic medication and the impact of long-term endemic disease on the bottom line, posing the challenge to farmers to consider whether their business would continue to be viable if certain diseases became untreatable due to antibiotic resistance, or if certain antibiotic products were no longer permitted to be used in livestock.

You can view the presentations made at the conference in Glasgow in November here