Veterinary Ireland welcomes ‘whole flock’ approach in new code of practice for antimicrobials

Veterinary Ireland and the Animal and Plant Health Association (APHA) have welcomed the publication of a new Code of Good Practice regarding the responsible use of antimicrobials in sheep.

The code, which was launched by Minister of State for land use and biodiversity Pippa Hackett, was developed in partnership with the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), the Department of Agriculture, Veterinary Ireland and Teagasc.

It seeks to promote strategies among sheep farmers and their vets which will reduce the use of antimicrobials in sheep flocks and the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

This latest code follows the publication last year of two codes of practice on the use of antimicrobials on dairy farms and pig farms.

Antimicrobial resistance

AMR is a growing public health issue which occurs from the inappropriate or overuse of antibiotics in humans and in animals.

It can result in disease-causing organisms developing resistance to antibiotic medicines which then lose their effectiveness in treating disease.

President of Veterinary Ireland Conor Geraghty said: “The new borne lamb is probably the most immunologically naive animal on Irish farms. Sheep farmers and their vets have particularly difficult challenges in ensuring that lambs are borne into safe, low disease risk, environments.

The best approach to reducing the need for antibiotic use and improving flock health and productivity, is the ‘whole flock’ approach between farmer and vet that is set out in this new code.

“As with all good management, the new code advocates a planned approach and attention to detail. However, this will provide major benefits in commercial returns for farmers and, importantly, the prolonged effectiveness of key antibiotics in the fight against major diseases in both animals and humans,” Geraghty concluded.

The IFA is also welcoming the publication of the new code of good practice.

Chairman of the IFA Animal Health Committee Pat Farrell said:  “The new code provides sheep farmers with practical guidance on key areas of managing the health and welfare of their sheep flocks and reducing the need for antibiotics.

“Disease outbreaks will happen and interventions using antibiotics remain important tools for farmers. However, strategic approaches involve taking a broader and a longer term view, to improve overall flock health and lead to better productivity,” he said.

Practical strategies

The new code emphasises the central role of good flock husbandry and provides a practical set of guidelines to prevent and manage disease risk in sheep flocks.

These strategies include practical guidelines for:
  • Disease prevention;
  • Flock Health Plans;
  • Biosecurity measures;
  • Vaccination programmes;
  • Avoiding stress in animals through good husbandry, housing and availability of clean water;
  • Controlling parasites;
  • Where antibiotics are necessary to treat disease, observing the ‘Six Rights’ of antimicrobial use.

Chairman of APHA’s Animal Health Division Edmond Wall said: “The collaborate approach and detailed work involved in producing this new Code of Practice is further evidence of the commitment of all the key stakeholders in Ireland’s agri-food industry to very high standards of animal husbandry and the safety of Irish food.

“The new code is the third in a series to support farmers and their vets in reinforcing key messages on the responsible use of antimicrobials.

“Our objective as an industry is always to support the primacy of good husbandry and production systems among farmers, and to ensure that the need for antibiotic interventions are kept to a minimum,” he concluded.