Antimicrobial resistance: A new vertical with everything you need to know

Teagasc has launched a new antimicrobial resistance or AMR vertical on its website with everything farmers need to know about this very important topic.

It brings together Teagasc and international research findings, aiming to explain what AMR is and actions that can be taken to prevent AMR.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when micro-organisms that cause infections adapt and prevent an antimicrobial from working against it.

As a result, the antimicrobials used to treat infections are no longer effective, limiting the treatment options available and therefore making the most common infections more difficult to treat.

AMR is a global health concern that has consequences for animal health, human health, food security and the environment.

In farming, minimising reliance on antibiotics by improving the overall health status of the herd is key in addressing the challenge of AMR.

Information on the site includes everything from why AMR is a serious issue to what can be done to prevent it. It also contains disease prevention and bio-security measures, along with the most frequently asked questions in relation to AMR.

The vertical outlines:
  • What AMR is?
  • Why it is an issue?
  • How does AMR develop and spread?
  • What factors increase the development and spread of AMR?
  • What can be done at farm level to prevent it?
  • What action plans are in place?
  • Disease prevention strategies;
  • Bio-security measures;
  • Farm husbandry practices;
  • Vaccination protocols;
  • Prudent use of antibiotics and case studies;
  • Critically important antibiotics (CIAs);
  • Frequently asked questions.

Why is AMR an issue?

It is unlikely that there will be any new classes of antibiotics available for many years. This poses a serious threat to disease control throughout the world.

This is not only a global public health concern but it will also have consequences for animal health, food security and the environment.

The availability and use of antibiotics is of vital importance in protecting animal health and welfare, productivity and facilitating the production of safe, nutritious food.

If antibiotics lose their efficacy there will be a lack of suitable medicines that farmers can avail of to protect animal health and welfare. This will impact on-farm productivity and profitability.

How does AMR develop and spread?

The development of resistance is a natural phenomenon that will inevitably occur when antibiotics are used to treat infection. Every time antibiotics are used, bacteria are offered the opportunity to develop resistance.

Resistant bacteria can be transmitted between animals, humans and the environment so AMR is a problem for both animals and, more importantly, humans.

In farming, animals treated with antibiotics can become potential sources of AMR. Resistant bacteria and antibiotic residues can be transmitted from these animals through animal manure spread across the land as fertiliser.

This animal manure can be absorbed by food crops, thereby spreading resistant bacteria and antibiotic residues to humans through food.

Large quantities of bacteria and antibiotic residues can also enter soil and groundwater from excreted animal urine and manure. Resistant bacteria can also be spread to humans through direct contact with animals.

What factors increase the development and spread of AMR?

The problem at present is that the continued use, particularly the inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans, animals and in other situations, is leading to significant increases in the development and spread of AMR.

The misuse of antibiotics may lead to the development and spread of AMR:
  • Overuse of antibiotics;
  • Under-dosing with antibiotics;
  • Not finishing the treatment course;
  • Incorrect disposal of antibiotics;
  • Use of last resort antibiotics as first-line therapy;
  • Blanket use of antibiotics in an untargeted manner;
  • Treatment of bacteria that are not susceptible to the particular antibiotic;
  • Treatment of diseases caused by viruses or other germs not susceptible to antibiotics.

What can be done at farm level to prevent AMR?

When it comes to animal health, prevention is better than cure. The first step farmers can take to prevent the development of AMR is to improve the overall health status of the animals on the farm.

This will not only reduce antibiotic use on farm but it will also maximise farm productivity.

This can be achieved through disease prevention strategies such as good bio-security measures, adequate housing, optimal stocking densities, vaccination and parasite control.

Under no circumstances should antibiotics be used to compensate for poor farm management practices.

Antibiotics should be used to maintain animal health and welfare where necessary; in other words they should be used prudently.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine, Veterinary Ireland, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), and the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) have developed a best practice guide in relation to the use of antibiotics in farm animals.

The website refers to this guide, which recommends the following six Rs when using antibiotics.

The six R’s should be followed when using antibiotics:
  • Right Veterinary Diagnosis;
  • Right Animal;
  • Right Antibiotic;
  • Right Dose;
  • Right Duration;
  • Right Storage and Duration.

Where can I find this information?

To access this information and more, simply log on to the Teagasc website, or just click here