Steering towards antimicrobial stewardship
The negative impacts of antimicrobial overuse on dairy farms, plus how policymakers and veterinarians can help.
Antibiotic overuse in animals contributes to antimicrobial resistance in humans. Treatment resistant bacteria spreads to humans when consumers ingest meat from an infected animal or when an infected animal’s feces spread resistant bacteria to crops.1
The Journal of Rural Studies published a review based on semi-structured interviews in its July 2021 issue that evaluated how a farmer’s treatment knowledge, duty of care, and sense of autonomy of treatment practice affect the use of veterinary medicines in dairy cattle. Researchers from the UK collected this data by interviewing and observing dairy farmers to understand on-farm culture and common treatment practices.1
Antimicrobial treatment is used on the farm to prevent and treat infections. Veterinarians are needed to prescribe these medications for the animals. However, some farmers stated that they do not believe their veterinarians have sufficient knowledge to adequately give advice or to explain the medication use in great detail. This leads some farmers to rely on their experiential and inter-generational knowledge rather than evidence-based knowledge from their veterinarian.1
Dairy cows and farmers are in a mutually beneficial relationship. The farmer provides the cows with basic necessities such as food and water and the cows provide the farmer with a career.1 Farmers appreciate their dairy cattle’s value and try to prevent pain or suffering. Consequently, they may treat some cows unnecessarily or give them too much medication.
Farmers' perceptions of autonomy directly affected medication use. Regulatory frameworks imposed on farms constrain farmers' decision making.1 For example, government-mandated bovine tuberculosis (bTB) testing, and restrictions left some farmers unable to sell their young animals into the beef sector, causing insufficient housing and feed for the cattle. Economic constraints are harmful when farmers are unable to afford vaccines. One farmer was not able to invest in vaccinations and ultimately some cows died while others had to be treated.1
Antimicrobial stewardship, a program dedicated to promoting the appropriate use of antimicrobials, frustrated many farmers due to the lack of information and understanding about its strategies.1 Understanding what drives farmers' treatment practices will aid policymakers and veterinarians in selecting appropriate strategies that farmers can easily implement. Policymakers and veterinarians must also take the opportunity to provide alternatives to antimicrobial use in thorough detail. Antimicrobial stewardship can benefit both animals and humans if programs are properly implemented and understood.
Isabella L. Bean is a 2022 PharmD Candidate at the University of Connecticut.
- Rees GM, Reyher KK, Barrett DC, Buller H. ‘It's cheaper than a dead cow’: Understanding veterinary medicine use on dairy farms. J Rural Stud. 2021;86:587-598. doi: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2021.07.020.
Editors note: All veterinary technician content for this month is supported by Banfield Pet Hospital.