Antibiotic use

Appropriate use of antibiotics is no longer a catch cry for those that think differently to you and me; it is now universal thanks to a couple of forces that are shaping our opinions.

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has highlighted our humanity when we have diseases for which there are limited tools to treat their effects. The second force is urbanisation, with people in towns and cities increasingly concerned over how their food is produced.

While we are fortunate in New Zealand to have a well-regulated system that firstly controls which medicines can be used and secondly exerts control over how these products are applied, all farmers and veterinarians must exercise responsible use.

This article will discuss responsible use of antibiotics, but this discussion is equally applicable to many of our mainstay farming products. Using the sheep sector as an example, growing resistance to the active ingredients used for the control of internal and external parasites (worms, fly and lice) are now commonplace.

Antibiotics are divided into three groups, using a traffic light system of green, orange and red.

While all three levels require veterinary prescriptions and veterinary oversight of their use, those classified as red are those antibiotics which are critical for the treatment of human diseases. While their use on farm is not banned, their use must be appropriate and prescription periods are limited to four months as are quantities that may be dispensed.

Those antibiotics with green and orange classifications may be prescribed for a period up to 12 months for use in large animals (farm stock and horses). For pets, this period is reduced to six months for products containing the same actives.

With this push to lower antibiotic use, our advice is to focus on the tools we have to prevent disease.

Vaccinations are one approach. The use of Salvexin+B to reduce Salmonella outbreaks, vaccinating with Rotavec® Corona or Scourguard® to build colostrum protection for calves against Rotavirus, Coronavirus and E coli, and lepto and clostridial vaccines of young stock are examples of this approach.

Other approaches incorporate new technologies and changes in farming systems. With milk quality we are working with many of you to install on-farm Mastatest systems to allow all mastitis cases to be cultured. We are achieving better cure rates with results available within 24 hours that identify the correct product to use and in mild cases we can begin treatment with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (Ketomax) and only introduce antibiotics once properly diagnosed.

Approaches to dry cow therapy and milk quality have rapidly altered. Differentially treating cows within the herd has reduced antibiotic use and increased the use of Teatseal, all with great effect. Those that are Fonterra suppliers will be rewarded for this effort under the Animal Wellbeing programs and incentives.

These changes are for the better. They not only improve financial returns but also contribute to improving consumer confidence in farming.

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