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Antibiotic use under the spotlight at congress

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01 December 2014, at 12:00am

Richard Gard reports on the congress of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, held in Leicestershire in October, where many subjects of current concern to practices and farmers were discussed.

MORE than 220 veterinary surgeons from 211 practices which deal with cattle were among those who attended the 2014 congress of the British Cattle Veterinary Association in October.

The event began with a welcome dinner at which the then president, Declan O’Rourke, announced an addition to the programme. On the first morning, two hours before the opening session, there would be an opportunity to meet some of the board (formerly council) members over coffee and raise any issues requiring clarification. The topics raised at this session included the current situation with antibiotic use direction from Europe, the validation of official veterinary surgeons and the involvement of the BCVA with other overseas veterinary organisations with regard to qualifications.

In the main programme, more than 70 speakers gave presentations in four parallel sessions. In the appropriately named Jersey room, the first session looked at the role of farm animal vets, with Michael Seals (Animal Health & Welfare Board for England), Duncan Sinclair (Waitrose) and Raymond O’Rourke (Consumers Association of Ireland) highlighting the expectations of the farmer, the supermarkets and consumers.

The expectations of the farmer are probably better understood and summarised as “collaboration”. A veterinary adviser to the farm is considered part of the team supporting the viability of the farm. There are, of course, wide differences in the expectation of individuals but the future lies with closer collaboration.

An attentive 24-hour, seven-day-a- week service is expected from bright, well-equipped vets, who will nd solutions to problems associated with today’s farms and production.

The relationship between Waitrose and veterinary surgeons is growing. 

The policy of the company is “to get closer to vets” and the first veterinary seminar involving 25 veterinary groups was successful and likely to become a regular event. One of the aims is to share with vets how supply chains are operated and the commitment of the company to higher welfare systems.

There are 2,200 primary protein livestock suppliers to Waitrose, including 100 beef farmers and 50 milk producers; an antimicrobial resistance strategy is in place and will be developed further. In discussion it was highlighted that 24 suppliers had identified a BVD problem but only half had engaged with their veterinary practice. 

From the floor it was pointed out that a great deal of work has been going into BVD and this was accepted but more success is expected.

Veterinary organisations will be aware of the Bureau des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC) but veterinary practices may wish to look at the website, www.beuc.org. Raymond O’Rourke, a food lawyer, pointed out that in September 2014 a proposal was put to the EU to address consumer concerns on antibiotics. This includes the decoupling of vets’ rights to prescribe and sell antibiotics and the public health issue of antimicrobial resistance. There are many steps before this topic can become EU law but the proposal is supported by 40 consumer organisations from 31 European countries.

Following the horsemeat scandal, it is believed that 90% of consumers want to know where meat is born, raised and slaughtered. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is becoming ever more important and the message to UK vets is, “Don’t forget Europe, consumer NGOs won’t go away so work with them; we may not always agree but that’s democracy and dialogue is best.”

Antibiotic failures

A later session gave some detail about antibiotic failures. Tim Hampton (Milk Link Ltd) explained that every milk collection tanker is tested every day and every failure is reported to Trading Standards.

On farm bulk milk tank failures supplying Milk Link are 1,235 per annum, which accounts for over four million litres of contaminated milk. 

Nationally there are over 7,000 bulk tank failures with a loss of 25 million litres at a cost of £7 million and 360 tanker rejections with a disposal cost of £4.5 million.

The cause of failures has been identified as 26% incorrect use of medicines and 41% animal identification error. Dry cow therapy administration accounts for 35% of failures and milking cow therapy 48%. There are consistent failures year on year and the industry is not seeing a reduction in antibiotic contamination of milk.

Andy Biggs mentioned the term “violative residues” used in the USA and commented on the variations that take place from the label use indicated for products.

Increases in dose and the frequency of dosing affect the duration of the antibiotic and the risk of a persistent residue. Residues from combinations of therapy (e.g. injections plus intramammaries) are an issue.

Veterinary surgeons are becoming more involved in education of herdsmen to prevent violations and the supply of testing kits for single use is increasing. There are concerns whether the detectable level of the kit matches the level detected by the milk buyer for specific antibiotics and these are being addressed by the industry.

Time for questions

“Questions Time” has become a feature of the BCVA congress and Andrew Taylor drew on pre-submitted items that were put on screen with the questioner having the first right of reply.

Gary England (dean of the Nottingham veterinary school), Christianne Glossop (CVO Wales), Alick Simmons (DCVO DEFRA) and Michael Seals offered responses.

TB came front and centre and notable was the recognition that the vaccination of badgers offered no recognised benefit on its own, the vaccination of cattle was not straightforward and not able to be relied on and that current direction involves a suite of measures that will take many years to bring about control of the disease.

The point was made from the floor by Scotland’s DVO that because Scotland is not fighting bTB an eradication programme for BVD is able to be progressed.

There is a duty to manage the risk of BSE/CJD and so risk protection needs to remain in place although the disease is on the point of eradication. Alick Simmons encouraged everyone not to underestimate the effect of CJD on families. The end of an epidemic always has a long disease tail, he said.

The wastage of productivity due to disease (often unrecognised) contributes to global warming by utilising resources. The value of recognising and reporting disease (surveillance) is seen as essential. Veterinary surgeons in practice have a role to keep devolved administrations honest, was an observation from Christianne Glossop, possibly referring to changes in political direction with animal disease.

As usual there were humorous interludes, with talk of balloons covering student embarrassment, a need to spend more time with wildlife and how to extract yourself from a minimal disease showering facility with dignity and no clothes.