Almost two in three Irish farmers have already changed how they use antimicrobials and have a positive attitude towards changing their practices further, new research from Safefood has found.

More than 400 farmers and veterinarians were surveyed during the two-year cross-border project, which involved Teagasc, Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin (UCD).

Researchers examined the behaviours of farmers and vets in relation to the responsible use of antimicrobials, and looked at what factors influenced their decisions around their use in meat and dairy-producing animals.

They established that the relationships between farmers and their vets are key in achieving the type of behaviour changes that could reduce the use of antimicrobials in agriculture.

During the research period, almost 64% of farmers said that they had already made some changes to the way they use these medications and were generally positive about making further changes.

As well as this, subsidised vaccination programmes and other financial incentives were seen by farmers as positive levers to reduce usage.

Meanwhile, among vets, a number of barriers and facilitators were identified to how more responsible antimicrobial use could be practically implemented within the agricultural sector.

Speaking about the research, Dr. Áine Regan, research officer with Teagasc said that vets play an important role in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

“Rather than a traditional role of responding to disease on farms, [vets and farm advisors] play an active part in providing advice on best herd health management practices and with that, information on best antibiotic practices,” she said.

“They must be able to deliver information successfully and promote behavioural changes in farmers through motivating them and facilitating collaborative decision making.”

The project designed a number of “behaviour-change interventions”, one of which is a specialised training programme for vets, which will help them to provide technical advice and awareness around anitmicrobial use in the farming community.

As a result of the research, additional funding has been allocated to a number of pilot projects being delivered by psychologists in Animal Helath Ireland (AHI) and Teagasc, that will trial this type of behavioural intervention.