Antibiotic resistance and residues: Prevention is better than cure

Antimicrobials are used to fight pathogenic microbes that cause disease. However, some diseases can develop resistance to these products.

While this is not a major problem here in Ireland at the moment, EU legislators are becoming increasingly worried about resistance.

Speaking at a recent Teagasc, Kepak and Animal Health Ireland (AHI) beef event, Teagasc beef specialist Vivian Silke outlined that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) effects us all – both animals and humans.

“It is important to us all. However, we are not major offenders in Ireland. It has become an issue on farms in the US and Canada, where they use a lot of antibiotics,” he explained.

Vivian also outlined statistics which he received from a department vet recently. He said: “In 2017, antimicrobial resistance led to the death of 37,000 people across Europe.

“To put a figure on it, that’s a death every 15 minutes in Europe due to this problem. We have all a part to play in animal medicine and in terms of human medicine.

“According to human scientists, if antibiotics are got rid of, it will be the end to modern medicine as we know it,” he added.

Residues and Quality Assurance (QA)

Vivian also touched on antibiotic residues. Residues occur in the carcass when a farmer may use an antibiotic and the withdrawal period is not respected. Samples are taken at random by Department of Agriculture vets in meat processing plants.

However – again – this is not a major problem here in Ireland and a Kepak representative stated that – generally speaking – Irish farmers are “getting better” at observing the withdrawal period of antibiotics.

Vivian continued: “Likewise to resistance, this is more of a problem in countries such as the US and Canada, where they use a lot of antibiotics.

“However, we have to be careful how we use them; the quantities that we use; and the animals that we use them on,” he explained.

Any farmer who is Bord Bia Quality Assured must keep accurate records of antibiotic usage and dosage. On this, Vivian said: “It is important that all medicines are recorded from a Quality Assurance perspective. We need to be conscious of this at all times.

We need to keep our Quality Assurance bonuses. Beef farming is hard enough without loosing them.

There is not much that can be done to stop pathogens developing resistance. However, there are measures that can be put in place to prevent it from happening.

How can we prevent AMR?

Vivian stressed that the strategic use of antibiotics is crucial in the prevention of resistance.

“We need to know what antibiotics we are using and what disease we are trying to cure. People sometimes just say the calf is not well, I’ll just give him a shot of this product. This is not the right attitude to have,” he explained.

They won’t work for viruses. They should be used for treatment instead of prevention.

The beef specialist also explained that antibiotics should always be used as prescribed. Good biosecurity measures around the farm, he said, will also help prevent the spread of disease and reduce the need for antibiotic use.

He also outlined that good animal husbandry and farming practises can go a long way to prevent the need for antibiotics.

“Throughout continental Europe, farmers are using very hard calved bulls. Using bulls with 15% calving difficulty – in a lot of cases – will lead to a cesarean section.”

“When a cesarean takes place, the vet will pour antibiotics on each of the four layers he/she has to stitch back together. They will then hand you the bottle and say give her another 10ml for the next five days. This is a problem related to using hard-calving bulls.

They have started looking into this issue across Europe. We need to stop using hard-calved bulls to avoid cesareans and to avoid unnecessary antibiotic use.

He added: “I often say to farmers if you want to avoid bother with a heifer, don’t use a bull that is over 5% for calving difficulty. For a mature cow, I wouldn’t use a bull over 10% for calving difficulty.

“If she is suppose to get 10ml for the next five days, then she should get the 10ml. There might be the temptation to let her off out the field with the calf and she will be sound. You need to finish the course of antibiotics,” he concluded.