There were several scary findings in the article. The investment of time, resources, training and facilities required to save lives and reduce the risks from antibiotic resistant bugs is far greater than many health services seem prepared to invest. Antibiotic resistant bugs are worsening, with CRE making MRSA look mild. This is not good.
But perhaps of most relevance to those of us involved in animal farming, is that in the Dutch health service, certain patients are assumed to carry antibiotic resistant infections on their skin – and “workers on animal farms” are top of the list of patients to be quarantined while awaiting test results. (Image above from The Economist article)
Farmers – carrying MRSA or similar on your skin is a health risk for you, your families and your workers. Talk to your vet about how to build a healthier, more resilient herd or flock, with the aim of reducing the level of antibiotic usage on your farm.
For information on how we can help you and your vet measure antibiotic usage on your farm, contact us on email@example.com
While there is no denying the work being carried out by many organisations, groups, institutions and individuals in the fight to save antibiotics, at VirtualVet we are still frustrated with the lack of impact on the ground.
Every day we have conversations with farmers unsure about the risks and impacts of their on-farm usage of antibiotics. We meet vets frustrated at gaps in surveillance which allow room for bad practice. We talk to government officials grappling with trying to design the implementation of a new policy, aware that the existing policy is not sufficiently enforced. We have spoken to food industry executives and met with pharmaceutical management teams fearful, interested, but resistant to real engagement.
How to start reducing antibiotic usage in agriculture
So where do we go from here? It’s clear, even after a five minute read of WHO‘s reasons for World Antibiotics Awareness Week, that people are dying, in their thousands, each year across Europe, due to antimicrobial resistance. Yet there is this remarkable sense of detachment evident in too many in the value chain. Te get us out of this tail spin, we propose the following actions for the following cohorts:
Farmers: Talk to your vet, meaningfully. Vaccinations cost money, but when antibiotics don’t work it costs lives. Human lives. Lives in your community and (hopefully not) your family. Ask your vet to come and prepare a health plan with you. Pay for their time and service. ….and act on their advice, otherwise it’s a waste of both!
Vets: Use data when talking to your farmers. They are stressed, frustrated, worried, and often blamed for everything that’s wrong with the world from obesity, to climate change – so be mindful of their pressures. They are also suspicious of vaccinations and forgetful of just how much antibiotics they used in the last year, so arm yourself with information, and talk about them specifically.
Government: embrace digital and don’t hide behind data protection. GDPR gives a framework for using data – it was not designed to be used as an excuse to make data die.
Agri-food industry: Waiting won’t make the issue go away.
Pharmaceutical companies: real-world trials are a thing. Farmers need confidence in vaccinations and this confidence can be increased through sample sizes of more than 1 farm! Too many reports, advertisements and spiels are issued on small samples which encourages cynicism. If you want to sell more vaccines, make an effort to find out if they are working in the real-world.
October has seen several high profile media outlets cover antibiotic usage in food producing animals. VirtualVet welcomes the attention this issue is generating, but fears the coverage will be ignored by many within the industry – including farmers and their vets.
At the conference, Prof Martin Cormican said “Antibiotic resistance is impacting on
people now,” warning that there is an increasing body of evidence which points to this resistance being transferred from animals into the food chain. Prof Cormican continued that “People think about it as a future problem but it is not a future problem. Antibiotic resistance has an impact on the recommendations that I make every day.” Prof Cormican’s comments were briefly covered in the Farmers Journal (image attached).
This coverage was followed in the Farmers Journal online edition Thursday Oct 26th under the heading “EU rules to prevent antibiotics from being used as growth promoters”, but the most interesting line in the article which could have immediate impact on how European farmers is:
“To help tackle antimicrobial resistance, the law would empower the European Commission to select antimicrobials to be reserved only for treating humans”
If, for example, the Commission follows World Health Organisation catergorisation of antibiotics critically important to humans, there will be immediate impacts on the treatment choices available to European dairy farmers. This summer, VirtualVet produced a booklet to help farmers and vets to start the conversation about critically important antibiotics (CIAs). The guide is available by contacting us here.
But this is not just a European issue. Last week an article on CBS News caught our eye. This article mentions an antibiotic, Tylosin, which is an example of a CIA. It’s also all too common in remedy records we see here.
Farmers and vets need to have more open discussions and conversations about their choices of animal treatment. These conversations can be helped with better data.
VirtualVet helps farmers record and monitor their on-farm drug usage, ready for analysis with their vet as they co-design animal health plans.
VirtualVet is delighted to join this new network to combat anthelmintic resistance in livestock.
Warsaw, February 2017 – 59 researchers from 25 countries met for the first time at the University of Life Sciences of Warsaw in Poland to discuss a coordinated approach in tackling anthelmintic resistance in ruminants.
Anthelmintics are a particular drug class that are used to treat parasitic worm infections. These infections are a common and important problem in livestock production around the world. Strategic use of anthelmintics has been very successful in reducing clinical parasitic disease and enhancing resource-efficient livestock production. This contributes to cheaper food prices and reductions in water use and greenhouse gas emission of the sector. Today, the ruminant livestock industry is increasingly confronted with parasitic worms that have become drug resistant. This is called anthelmintic resistance and is a part of the antimicrobial resistance phenomenon. New solutions need to be found to preserve the efficacy of the drugs and develop a broader panel of control options.
The network (“COMBAR – COMbatting Anthelmintic Resistance in Ruminants) will be supported over the 4 next years by the EU COST programme and aims to harmonize procedures, train young researchers and generate new data to support the transition to sustainable worm control approaches. Thereby it will focus on 3 pillars: diagnostics, socio-economic aspects and novel control approaches.
“For maintaining the health, welfare and productivity of ruminant livestock, we need to shift the way we use anthelmintics and develop a broader panel of control options including novel diagnostics, vaccines, nutraceuticals and pasture management procedures. Thanks to the COST programme, we will be able to create an important and diverse network across Europe. Along the process, we aim to reach out to industry, regulators and various stakeholders to share new data and discuss recommendations for best practices and new solutions”, said Johannes Charlier (Kreavet), Chair of the Action.
“The strong part of COST Actions is that they truly allow for a pan-European approach, including the eastern and southern parts of Europe, surrounding countries and some international partner countries that have a strong expertise in the subject”, said Smaragda Sotiraki (Hellenic Veterinary Research Institute), Vice-chair of the Action.
“We will first inventorise, assess technology readiness levels and then prioritise novel diagnostic options to support a targeted used of anthelmintics. We will also pool data on the prevalence of anthelmintic resistance to get a European overview of the situation”, said Laura Rinaldi (University of Naples Federico II), Leader of the Working Group on diagnosis.
“We will generate new data on the economic impact of parasitic worm infections and anthelmintic resistance in Europe and investigate socio-psychological drivers to facilitate a behaviour change to sustainable approaches”, said Edwin Claerebout (Ghent University), Leader of the Working group on socio-economics.
“We will investigate the readiness and level of evidence for alternative control approaches including vaccines, nutraceuticals and pasture management procedures. We hope to generate new insights in how these options together with diagnostics can be used to achieve integrated parasite control”, said Eric Morgan (Queen’s University of Belfast), Leader of the Working group on Innovative control methods
Farmers’ newest asset – animal drug usage data for sale.
At VirtualVet we’ve been very busy for the last number of months rolling out our multi-channel animal drug usage data collection service to farmers, vets and the wider agri-food & animal health industries.
The level of interest from farmers, vets and animal health suppliers has been immense and heartening. We set out to prove that the data driven economy can be applied to agri-food and animal health industries, with the farmer as the vital first source of value in that new economy. We have helped farmers create a new asset; their animal health data. Our multi-channel data collection service enables farmers to leave us a voice mail, use email, text of our Android app to send us their on-farm animal remedy information, including antibiotic usage. Once we receive the message, we record the animal treatment in a format which meets the reporting needs of farmers and the wider agri-food industry.
This free service to farmers removes the stress of medicines compliance paperwork, presents them with useful and accurate records for their decision making on-farm, and sends back outcome information to their vets when required.
But we also collect business intelligence for the pharmaceutical industry. Talk to us today to find out how we can help you fill in the gaps in animal drug usage information. Below we list the information we collect and have available for purchase by appropriate actors in the agri-food and animal health industries. As the information comes to us from the farmer and is a record of the purchasing and usage decisions on that farm, companies can buy and analyse the performance of their competitors’ drugs and treatments. With our methods of anonymising the animal ID, we enable companies to explore and query efficacy or treatment decisions to benefit both their own product development and messaging, but also the value of money for vets and farmers.
VirtualVet’s usage data fills the acknowledged gaps in animal antibiotic use and will contribute to work of researchers, government agencies, investors and others as they attempt to tackle antimicrobial resistance. We record to the animal ID, therefore allowing competent authorities to stand over, in near real-time, their animal health surveillance processes. Through collecting the reason an animal was treated, for example, with an antibiotic, we are building a picture of human nature and behaviour so interesting to vets and veterinary researchers.
Our team here will continue to record on-farm animal drug usage in near real-time and innovative organisations along the agri-food and animal health industries will continue to support and work with us.
The data driven economy is taking off and we are very excited to be a part of it.
VirtualVet welcomes the launch of Ireland’s ‘One Health’ National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance 2017-2020. The growing threat of antimicrobial resistance must be tackled through collaboration between animal and human health sectors. VirtualVet is gathering animal health data in near real-time providing accurate digital information to help stakeholders more accurately measure antibiotic and antimicrobial usage in food producing animals.
It is known that a large percentage of human diseases originate in animals. This requires the need for healthier animals thus requiring less medicine. Farmers gather important information daily on the health of their animals. This information can play a vital role in disease surveillance. We facilitate collection of these data providing a free remedy recording and compliance service, making the on-farm observations and treatments of animals available to government agencies and surveillance bodies in near real-time.
Digitising these valuable data helps to create awareness in our farmer clients about what they are giving their animals, prompting them to consider alternative ways to address their animals’ health. The different sectors in the farming industry can be seen through our remedy recording service breaking it down by species (pig, goat, sheep, dairy, beef), age, condition, why and what medicine was used along with the outcome.
VirtualVet is live, farmers are talking to us and they are using our service to record their remedies. We have learned they are listening to the WHO’s concerns about AMR and are keen to contribute what they can to tackling the overuse of antibiotics by sharing their antibiotic usage with us. Now all stakeholders and actors in the animal health and agri-food value chains have opportunities to use this information to aid research and understanding of antibiotic use, outcomes and alternatives across the different sectors in a collaborative way.
In March 2017 the AHEAD 2017 workshop allowed an open discussion on how some of the gaps in animal health and drug usage data could be filled. We also discussed how filling those gaps could be paid for. More specifically, we detailed the actors along the value chain for whom these filled gaps would be very beneficial.
To help others realise the level of support and help out there for start-up businesses, WLRfm recently visited VirtualVet to chat about our experiences with the Local Enterprise Office.
The brief video below describes how and why we started the business, name drops a few great mentors and a source of inspiration, encourages ceaseless research and describes the big advantages to appearing at the national ploughing championships – regardless of weather!
A few months ago, following our work on AHEAD 2017, I met Param Singh of UDAY Skills. Param and his team are leading an interesting rural development project in Punjab, India, focused on dairy farmers and the importance of sustainable and profitable dairy farmers to a rural economy and community – Project Moo. Param was looking for a way to help farmers record their cow health and medicine usage, but also to improve the overall information and knowledge flow within the value chain.
Through our discussions and based on some of the experiences in Irish and European dairy farming, it became clear that UDAY and VirtualVet share common interests, goals and challenges. To better benefit each other and ensure knowledge and experiences are shared to the maximum impact of as many as possible, I have joined the Project Mooo advisory board.
In my role I will work to bring the positive experiences from the front line of European dairy farming’s focus on animal health and welfare to help Project Mooo design and deploy solutions for the Indian context. The massive advantage Project Mooo and its partners have at present is the ubiquitous mobile phone. The speed of progress and change will be phenomenal. I am excited and proud to contribute in any small way I can.
Is Ireland further along the road to achieving the Animal Health strategy than people realise?
Media coverage this week highlighted the launch by Ireland’s Department of Agriculture Food & Marine (DAFM) of a National Farmed Animal Health Strategy. It sets out a comprehensive vision to take the farmed animal industry to 2022 and follows a consultative process carried out in 2016. The contributions received by the department are available and are as interesting as the finished document because they clearly show common concerns, some shared frustrations and the committed focus to excellence by influential actors in the farmed animal industry in Ireland.
There are two strategic objectives with which VirtualVet can be of assistance to the delivery of this vision: Data collection & management and business model & funding.
Data collection & management
In the documents we reviewed there was only passing reference to the EU Animal Health Law, passed by the European Parliament in March 2016. This law encourages member states to incorporate technology in the near real-time monitoring and surveillance of animal drug usage and disease.
VirtualVet currently provides a service to farmers which, in near real-time, digitises animal drug usage and animal health data and information. This is a costly and labour intensive service, but the value of the data and information collected cannot be underestimated in the context of the stated objectives of both the EU Animal Health Law and DAFM’s national strategy. We believe that there is a role for such an administrative service acting as a trusted interface with farmers making their information available, in near real-time, to nominated and appropriate bodies. As a simple example, we capture drug usage administered by animal ID. This is easily available to the prescribing veterinary practices to complete their records, complying more easily with the veterinary medicine directive and other important reporting requirements.
Our data management and terms of service are compliant with GDPR. We follow best advice from digital economy experts, resisting the urge to become a single, central data base, instead focused on becoming a platform through which many actors can access specific information in a specific area – for example, we do not capture fertility information – others do this excellently already. Digital and privacy experts cast doubts on the safety and appropriateness of large, centralised, single databases preferring a distributed model. In farmed animal health, VirtualVet provides a piece of a distributed puzzle.
But we also provide a way for Ireland and EU member states to meet the growing demand for near real-time antibiotic and antimicrobial usage information, currently articulated in the European Medicines Agency’s open consultation on data collection led by the The European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption (ESVAC). VirtualVet’s focus is on contributing to the security and sustainability of farmed animal agriculture. Our focus is on enabling farming families comply with important and evolving legislative requirements in as easy and effective a manner as possible.
Finally and importantly, introducing a commercial aspect to data collection and exchange is often pitched against calls for important information to be made “open”. Before we describe the advantages of the commercial approach below, we would warn against a belief in the utter superiority of open data. Unless properly managed, used and contextualised, these data-sets can lead to issues, and do not always respect the rights of those generating those data:
Ethical and data sharing rules were always in the mind of the individual and the culture of the community before the appearance of digital networks. Now we try to include these rules in systems or advocate open data and systems. In fact, the jury is out on what to do, as appears from ongoing discussions. For example, Johnson warns those who unconditionally advocate the use of open data that this can lead to injustice and unfairness through biased data and data modelling decisions.
In various representations and in the strategy document itself, there is a recognition of the advantages of a collaborative approach to funding the new national farmed animal health strategy:
The strategic vision aims that “…the costs of livestock health programmes and disease response efforts are appropriately balanced between industry stakeholders and the taxpayer.”
( page 14)
VirtualVet has spent years researching and designing our multi-sided business model. Earlier this year we co-hosted AHEAD 2017 in Exeter, during which Dr Pat Lynch of Waterford Institute of Technology highlighted the need for the animal health and agri-food industries to realise the opportunities digital technology and ubiquitous smartphones present to farmers’ ability to generate economic value from their on-farm data. Examples, such as Farmers Business Network have proven the growing expectation among farmers and their representative bodies, to ensure a fair exchange for their data, information and knowledge.
In the farmed animal industry, there are a number of potential customers for on-farm drug usage and animal health information; meat & dairy processor, the pharmaceutical manufacturers, research and surveillance agencies and organisations, competent authorities…etc.
It makes sense to capture information from as wide a farmer base as possible, to reduce duplication of approaches, and to make make data available on demand to relevant and appropriate bodies, sharing the cost across all actors – not just the taxpayer. Out sourcing the data collection to a commercial entity which delivers value back to the farmers providing these data will enable experts within, for example surveillance agencies, to monitor in near real-time a wider range of farms, spotting trends earlier and identifying outliers which may require more specialised intervention.
VirtualVet is happy to be the animal health data collection functionality offered through existing and established farm management software solutions and dashboards. Our multi-sided business model demonstrates a willingness to create economic value for the widest range of actors possible in the farmed animal industry, while sharing the costs.
Ireland as leader in digitising animal health data
Ireland has achieved hard-earned, globally recognised success in agri-food exports. VirtualVet is working on behalf of farmers to ensure the wider industry and its governance, research and economic success is underpinned by the greatest level of near real-time, digital surveillance currently available and deployed.