Farmer training on antibiotics is key to ending drug misuse on farms, an animal health expert has warned.

Although the use of antibiotics in Irish livestock is among the lowest in Europe, Conor Geraghty, food animal chair of Veterinary Ireland, says upskilling farmers is necessary to drive further change.

Speaking at a major veterinary conference, organised by MSD Animal Health at the RDS in Dublin, Mr Geraghty called for formal training to be added to the Government’s Knowledge Transfer programme.

“Farmers have to do training courses to spray nettles at the back of their farm but they can use antimicrobials without any training, so training is an important next step.

“We need to update the way we are doing it and make sure we are doing it correctly because you fall into habits over the years.

“It should be brought into the next half of the Knowledge Transfer, and everyone should attend workshop training on the responsible and safe use of medicines,” he said.

This call was supported by Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness, vice-president of the European Parliament, who also addressed the conference, which focused on Sustainable Irish Food production in 2025.

“The issue of sustainability of the food supply chain, a key issue for consumers and producers, is very high on the political agenda of the European Parliament,” she said.

“For Ireland as a major food producer, improving our sustainability is not just desirable, it is essential. This requires us to look at all aspects of the chain, what inputs are used, including the use of veterinary medicines.

“It requires us to not only make claims about our sustainability but to provide proof of those claims as today’s consumer is increasingly demanding this.”

Ms McGuinness said antibiotic resistance remains “a major global threat”.

She highlighted the current review of veterinary medical legislation at EU level, which is still in the legislative process but is due to be introduced over the next three years.

The review examines the authorisation, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, drug safety and use of veterinary medicinal products over their lifetime.

A recent EU report shows Irish farmers use one-eighth the amount of antibiotics used by farmers in Spain on a per animal basis – the Spanish are the highest users of antibiotics in the EU.

Vet Fergal Morris from MSD Animal Health, who spoke on the potential impact of new EU legislation, said that the use of preventative vaccines on Irish farms, which has more than doubled in the past decade, has set a “solid platform” for healthier animals which require less antibiotic intervention.

Indo Farming, 30 May, 2017.

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