News Roundup: Avian influenza, FAO launches Asian initiative

Avian influenza in China

Human cases of avian influenza have increased since December 2016 – specifically the H7N9 virus, influenza A – having first been detected in China four years ago. Despite heavy investment in the surveillance of bird markets and poultry farms, most patients reported previous contact with live birds.

“Targeted surveillance to detect the disease and clean infected farms and live bird markets, intervening at critical points along the poultry value chain – from farm to table – is required. There should be incentives for everybody involved in poultry production and marketing to enforce disease control.” – Vincent Martin, FAO’s representative in China.

FAO and OIE have made clear the importance of making available all information attained through surveillance of poultry, both for study of the existing disease and analysis of its potential to spread through poultry trains or wild bird movement.

On a related note: NTF Chairman Carl Wittenberg proposed an animal disease defence plan in the United States to limit the impact of foreign diseases on American food producers.


Animal antibiotics effect soil ecosystem

A Virginia Tech research team have found that manure from cattle treated with antibiotics can drastically change the bacterial and fungal make-up of soil. The team analysed soil from 11 dairy farms in the United States with results showing that soil near manure piles showed two-hundred times the amount of antibiotic resistant genes present in untampered soil, greatly lessening the soil fertility.


ATLASS: AMR surveillance preparation launches in Indonesia

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and Chulalongkorn University have this week launched their ATLASS initiative in Indonesia, supplementing the country’s execution of the new national antimicrobial surveillance system. With support from the Directorate General of Livestock and Animal Health Services, they visited laboratories in early March to access their preparedness for the implementation of AMR surveillance.

FAO’s project is focused on addressing antimicrobial usage in Asia’s livestock, aquaculture and plant production, and is concentrating efforts on strengthening the laboratory capacities of five countries in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Dr. Taradon Luangtongkun, head of the team from Chulalongkorn University is adamant that harmonisation is the key to effective data collection and study, “we want to help set a common ‘language’ for all in AMR surveillance through harmonised protocols and standards.”

News Roundup February 21st : NFU demand clarity on Brexit

EU Commission awards €45,000 to organisations fighting AMR

Three non-governmental organisations have been awarded in Belgium, at a ceremony hosted by the University of Leuven, for outstanding contributions that have significantly reduced the threat of antimicrobial resistance to human health. Awarded first prize by Commissioner of Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis, the BEUC (The European Consumer organisation) operated an antibiotic resistance campaign “From Farm to You”, while the second-placed Soil Association received €15,000 for their campaign to end the routine prophylactic mass-medication of farm animals. Speaking at the event, Commissioner Andriukaitis said that “averting this looming threat before it turns into a public health nightmare is my most pressing priority as Health Commissioner, and as a former doctor. I count on the continued help and commitment of organisations like BEUC.”

Berlin Conference on Novel Antimicrobials to take place February 24th

A number of experts will convene in Berlin to discuss current challenges in the European antimicrobial market during the Berlin Conference on Novel Antimicrobials. The 10th annual conference, hosted by the British Embassy in Berlin, will take place on February 24th and is designed to provide a deep insight to the antimicrobials market in Europe. Among the areas discussed will be exciting strategies from the European biotech and pharma sectors as well as treatments for the future. The conference will look at the market from both financial and clinical points of view, with alternative effective strategies to currently relied upon antibiotics being a central point of debate.

Study shows that probiotics can reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock?

An AAFC research scientist has found that the anti-inflammatory effects of probiotics could improve the intestinal health of livestock. According to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada results, live microorganisms could be used to improve intestinal health, preventing gut-associated diseases in farm animals. Dr. Magdalena Kostrzynska of the Guelph Research and Development Centre found that combining dietary fibre from barley, oats, rye and soy and said that “probiotics could provide options developing natural alternatives to conventional antibiotics for livestock.” Results showed that probiotics consumed with fibre can re-populate the gut with beneficial microbiota, as well as reduce inflammation and restore the gut mucus lining.

NFU demand clarity on Agriculture post-Brexit

NFU President Meurig Raymond has called on DEFRA secretary of state Andrea Leadsom to clarify the Government’s commitment to farming. He highlighted the right trade deals, access to competent workforce and a domestic agricultural policy that works for the country. Raymond said: “Over the next two years negotiations will take place which will have a massive impact on farming and Britain’s ability to have a thriving food production system.  Brexit needs to be successful when we leave the EU.” He went on to emphasize the need to stabilize both the seasonal and permanent workforce in agriculture, and the importance of unrestricted access to the European market. Leadsom responded in great detail which can be found in the story attached.

News Roundup: Cochrane Review, IFRM

Cochrane Review: Interventions to improve antibiotic prescribing practices for hospital inpatients.

On February 9th 2017, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews produced a review that highlights some good measures to be taken when prescribing antibiotics, with a mind to combating antimicrobial resistance. Using information collected from 221 studies on the subject, the studies tested interventions that fell broadly into two categories: restrictive techniques, which apply rules to make physicians prescribe properly, and enablement techniques, which provide advice or feedback to help physicians prescribe properly. The study found high-certainty evidence of interventions leading to improved prescription practices. Both restriction and enabling techniques were successful in achieving effectiveness of the intervention. The interventions reduced the duration of antibiotic treatment from eleven days to about nine, and a hospital stay from thirteen days to twelve. Those involved believe that heavy distribution of the review results could have an impact on health service and policy.

 International Feed Regulators Meeting sees critical issues discussed

The tenth annual  IFRM took place on January 30th and 31st in Atlanta, Georgia and facilitated much discussion between feed regulators from thirty-five countries around the world and representatives of IFIF and FAO. Organised by IFIF (International Feed Industry Federation) the meeting proved to an important platform to allow discussion topics including Feed Safety Risk Management Strategies, as well as programs on capacity development for feed safety to implement the Codex Alimentarius requirements. Also of note from the 10th IFRM was the introduction of a workshop on actions to minimize Antimicrobial Resistance and some talk on feed legislation in Japan and the Philippines.

Increased Indian focus on data collection

The government of Maharashtra (India’s third largest state) has identified 2017 as a year for huge improvements in agricultural data collection. To this point, data has been collected for most farms with basic information such as land holdings and crop patterns. The idea is that over the course of the year there will take place several agricultural censuses to gather more important information that will then be fit for use by the State Agriculture Department. State Agricultural Commissioner Vikas Deshmukh has stated that “ ..comprehensive data on the agricultural sector is necessary and its proper integration would be helpful.” The direction here might be rather vague but it is good to see a step in this direction.

Canadian Animal Health and Welfare Council prepares for disease outbreak

The National Farmed Health and Welfare Council  have published six recommendations with regards to preparing for emerging disease issues. With Porcine epidemic diarrhea and Seneca Valley virus and bovine tuberculosis having seen outbreaks in recent years,  it was seen as vital that positive steps be taken in disease prevention methods. Lack of industry communication was seen as a big complaint during the outbreak of bovine tuberculosis in Alberta and Saskatchewan and as result of this, new recommendations focus on early detection, a revised collaborative approach and improved communication between farmer, veterinarian and the authorities.

Weekly News Round Up – Trade and other issues.

President Trump hints at free trade deal with UK

US President Donald Trump has hinted that a generous free trade deal with the United Kingdom may be in the pipeline. With Britain facing into the troubling business of leaving the European Union without a free trade deal in place and the United States looking to export great amounts of agricultural produce each year, a deal of such nature could prove to be of great benefit to both.  Having been at the forefront of combating the use of growth-promoting hormones in beef over recent years, it is expected that the UK may be discouraged by the recent WTO ruling that the EU ban on hormone-treated beef was illegal. Another barrier to any potential deal would be compulsory country-of-origin labeling, with the dedication of British consumers to UK-origin beef creating a price gap of up to €200 per head as compared with similar beef.


Veterinary Feed Directive : US introduce strict laws on antimicrobial use

Stricter guidelines for the Veterinary Feed Directive came into effect on January 1st of this year in the United States. Because of rule changes, meat producers will be required to get authorization from a veterinarian to buy medically important antibiotics and administer them to food animals through food and drinking water. Tightening VFD is rooted in efforts by the FDA to promote more cautious use of antibiotics in food animals, with specific focus on reducing use of antibiotics as growth promoters. One would hope the EU will be encouraged by these positive strides and follow up strongly on draft plans voted on last year by MEP’s to update EU law on veterinary medicines, advocating a ban on collective and preventive antibiotic treatment of animals while backing measures to stimulate research into new medicines.



BCVA announce firm position on disease control

The British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) have issued recommendations to aid farmers in reducing the use of medically important antibiotics on their beef animals. Through guidelines prepared by Dr Elizabeth Berry, the official position taken and made clear by the BCVA is that an individual herd health plan adopting appropriate disease control measures remains key in improving upon the 10% reduction of antibiotic use on British farms. The prophylactic use of antibiotics is to be avoided when possible, with vaccination and improved animal husbandry encouraged. RUMA Secretary General John FitzGerald has welcomed the confirmation of this official position, commending the BCVA’s work to this point while adding that more needs to be done. VirtualVet very much agree with Mr Fitzgerald, and look forward to future action from the BCVA and others.

Consider the farmer in your design of farm technology

Many innovations and technologies have been developed, released and used productively by farmers in Europe and further afield with growing regularity in recent years, but more real and detailed consideration of the farmer as user in the design stages would improve adoption.

The value of genomics is widely recognized and burgeoning drone use promises several potential benefits to farmers. Online there are a host of vibrant agricultural communities discussing farm practice and trends through social media. On our farm physical, time consuming labour has been reduced in calf-rearing through our automatic feeders. Elsewhere, it is estimated that 20% of all cows in the EU will be milked by automated systems in the year 2020, a percentage that will continue to rise if farmers can be shown clear proof of its practicality and benefits. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a development of the internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity allowing them to send and receive data, essentially the interoperability of all smart-devices. An excellent example of this in agriculture is the Keenan InTouch system. This system collects live data to aid the farmer in managing animal feeding and ration formulation while improving milk quality in the dairy herd and finishing time for beef animals.

It’s estimated that fifty billion objects with a high level of interoperability will exist by the year 2020, integrating directly the physical and cyber worlds and improving our efficiency, accuracy and business through data exchange. Achieving the promised impacts of this worldwide data exchange requires thoughtful planning of the interfaces’ usability to prevent duplication and complexity, thereby encouraging use and adoption.

Adoption of new technology and management systems on farms has traditionally been low and it is only with an increased adoption rate that we can expect to see these new systems contribute to the agri-food sector in a meaningful way. As with any user, farmers need their engagement with technology to be as straightforward and cost-efficient as possible. When they are easy to implement and come with a clear benefit to the farmer, new technologies will meet little resistance in the modern market.

A current example of a process in need of user focus is online animal registration. The inability to edit submitted records and needless verification of each entry individually are features of department websites that can serve as an immediate deterrent. While it may be a positive and necessary step forward, the navigation of needlessly frustrating website design is needlessly unintuitive. The experience can easily lead older or less tech-savvy farmers to doubt the advantage of such tools, while also losing credibility among younger farmers used to much better user design. The result is government agencies missing out on valuable information and failing to maximise the benefits that modern advancements enable.

More broadly, it is necessary to develop productive data infrastructures and provide faster and more reliable rural internet, enabling farmers and other businesses serving farms, to involve themselves in data exchange that will be beneficial to them in achieving their productive potential. These advancements will provide jobs across the entire agri-food sector in tech, data powered solutions and innovation.

Young farmer explains threat of antimicrobial resistance

For some time now I have been working on our family-run dairy and beef enterprise. During this time, I have been surrounded by talk of the important problems facing the farming community; high input costs, fluctuating prices for meat and dairy produce, difficulty in meeting emissions requirements and the availability and cost of acquiring new land for expansion. These problems each require and deserve serious discussion and resolution, but none of these issues is as daunting to me as the startling and growing problem of antimicrobial resistance in both humans and animals.

There is a significant and sometimes underappreciated link between the health of the planet’s livestock and the health of its human population. Widely recognized is a worldwide dependence on antibiotics to safeguard our health over the course of our lives, less familiar to the public is the emergence of a terrifying pattern regarding antibiotic use in agriculture and the side effects of that. Given our reliance on antibiotics for our own health, the production of our food and in many cases, our income, it’s only natural to assume that somebody, somewhere, is casting a watchful eye upon the global use of these bacteria destroyers, enforcing strict regulations to ensure their effectiveness and availability in the years to come. Perhaps a little, but not at all to the extent that is necessary. Anti-microbial resistance has been touted as a strong likelihood as far back as 1946, when Sir Alexander Fleming warned that public demand for drugs, including one he discovered, penicillin, would lead to overuse and eventual bacterial evolution. Microbes receive a high level of exposure to antibiotics and in 2016, many have now evolved resistance to our front-line antibiotic defence. This is an issue that must be tackled in our law making, our food production and in our personal healthcare before further damage is done.  It is difficult to assess where the responsibility lies in the fight against anti-microbial resistance, it is not my place to tell you or even to suggest a course of action, but I shall do my best to describe here some of the incredibly worrying hurdles we now face.

Veterinarians are now encountering a growing number of animals displaying resistance to conventional drugs. Many reasons for this resistance have been put forward, including improper completion of the antibiotic course, the use of wrong antibiotics and repeated use of the same antibiotics. Recent studies support a growing fear of the link between animal antibiotic use and human resistance to these antibiotics. Colistin is a drug used by humans as a last resort drug in cases of cystic fibrosis and a range of intestinal infections. Found recently in China, was evidence that agricultural use of Colistin had provoked some resistance to the drug in nearby communities. We are already having difficulty treating gonorrhea because of resistance to antibiotics. It is estimated that without the appropriate measures being taken, drug resistant strains of tuberculosis, malaria and HIV could, at a future date, take ten million lives per year. The projected financial impact of this is that one hundred trillion would be wiped from the GDP over 35 years. Antimicrobial consumption in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa looks set to double before 2030. This is an issue that is growing with each passing year. While the US has imposed some solid regulation on antimicrobial use in food production, nothing of the sort seems to be happening in South America and Asia and pharmaceutical companies will have no issues in providing these growing economies with antibiotics for agricultural use. 

Antimicrobial resistance can and will lead to animals passing drug resistant strains from animal to farmer. It will be the cause of drug resistant strains reaching the consumer through beef, dairy and poultry products. Animals will inflict drug-resistance on their local environment through excretion. Our knowledge gaps in this area are dangerous. The necessary data concerning levels of antibiotic use, the types of antibiotics used and area-centric drug resistance data is not available to the people capable of steering us away from this potentially catastrophic problem. As a species, our treatment of disease has historically been reactionary; we identify the problem, develop a cure and treat people accordingly. In the battle against anti-microbial resistance our defence must become one of a proactive nature; we must adopt greater development and use of vaccines, work toward improvements in infection control and animal husbandry, and promote development in the area of disease intelligence. I hope we never reach a point when the worth of our antibiotics has been nullified by years of negligent use.

No part of me wants to believe the difficulties we could face in treating bacterial infections on our farms in the years to come.  Some might read these estimates of risk to human health and deem them a problem for people elsewhere in the world, another time, another continent, another statistic. The issues I have outlined will take money from the farmers’ pocket in Europe, food from Japanese shelves and health-care options from our children the world over if we do not tackle this swiftly and appropriately. As an industry and a society, we need to step up our efforts in the conservation of our agricultural future.