Ireland Performs Well in Use of Antibiotics in Farming
The use of antibiotics in Irish livestock is among the lowest in Europe and this puts Irish agriculture in a good position to deal with EU legislation on potential restrictions on antibiotic use in food animals which is due to be introduced over the next three years.
This was stated by veterinarian Fergal Morris in an address to the MSD Animal Health conference in Dublin today (Thursday 25 May).
“A recent EU report shows that Ireland is near the bottom of the European league in the use of antibiotics in animals. Irish farmers use one-eighth the amount of antibiotics used by farmers in Spain on a per animal basis, which is the highest user of antibiotics in the EU.
“Farmers in Italy use seven times more antibiotics than their Irish counterparts while the average German farmer uses three times more than the average Irish producer,” said Fergal Morris, who is director of ruminant business with MSD Animal Health.
He said the lower usage of antibiotics in Ireland is a reflection of our grass-based milk, beef and sheep production and the relatively low levels of intensive pig and poultry production.
“Even Ireland’s pig and poultry producers are much lower users of antibiotics than their EU counterparts. This is due to the strict biosecurity policies which are used by producers combined with a big increase in recent years in vaccination of pigs and poultry to protect against the major disease threats,” he said.
He referred to the strides across many EU countries to curb antibiotic use in farm animals. For example, antibiotic use by farmers in the Netherlands has been reduced by more than 50% over the past seven years. However, overall antibiotic use is still around 50% higher than in Ireland.
“In the Netherlands and Belgium, use of critically important antibiotics (CIAs) has been cut by more than 90%. CIAs are products such as 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporin’s and fluoroquinolones, which are vital components in human medicine. A similar initiative on further reducing antibiotic use in Irish farming is also getting underway,” he said.
“The massive increase by Irish farmers in the use of vaccines to prevent disease has been the big story in Irish farming. The use of preventative vaccines has more than doubled in the past decade and this sets a solid platform for healthier animals which require less antibiotic intervention,” said Fergal Morris.
“Respiratory diseases in calves and weanlings and diarrhoea in young calves are the diseases which account for a large percentage of antibiotics used in dairy and beef farming. While some farmers use vaccines to protect against these diseases, there is big scope for an increase in vaccination. More widespread vaccination against these diseases would lead to a big reduction in the use of antibiotics,” he added.