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antibiotics

Dairy, beef and sheep producers are among those being urged to sign up to a new antibiotic database by the end of the year.

Developed by AHDB, Medicine Hub is described as a “safe, secure and independent central repository” that collates, reports and compares antibiotic data from a variety of sources, including on-farm use and datasets from vets and processors.

Currently, UK farms have among the lowest use of antibiotics in Europe, but while the pig, poultry and aquaculture sectors capture antibiotic data for over 90% of production, the large and complex dairy, beef and sheep sectors have struggled to evidence responsible use due to a lack of this type of national-level data.

The service would “further improve trust and opportunities for UK dairy, beef and lamb”, said the Food Industry Initiative on Antimicrobials (FIIA), which brings together retailers, manufacturers, processors and foodservice companies to promote and support responsible antibiotic use in livestock farming and aquaculture.

Tesco group quality director, Sarah Bradbury, who sits on the FIIA steering group, described the hub as a “real breakthrough”.

“It’s a safe and secure way to collate, report and compare antibiotic information while giving farmers confidence to share data in a confidential way,” she said. “The initiative will help demonstrate the limited use of antibiotics across dairy, beef and sheep enterprises.”

Both the British Cattle Veterinary Association and the Sheep Veterinary Society have promoted the Medicine Hub in recent months. BCVA board member and cattle vet Rachel Hayton said it would take time for the database to fully evolve, but the information eventually provided would be invaluable for many reasons.

“We need to consider UK producers’ reputation and accountability, and meet new national antibiotic use targets agreed by vets and producers through the RUMA (or the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture coalition) Targets Task Force in November 2020,” she said.

“We know both vets and farmers have been committed to raising the bar on responsible use of antibiotics – we want them to be able to prove this.”

The hub is also developing interfaces to transfer in data collected by the Welsh Lamb & Beef Producers antimicrobial use calculator app and the STAMP antimicrobial usage benchmarking tool in Northern Ireland.

In addition to meeting national targets, Hayton said UK farmers and vets would need to consider EU rule changes, with member countries having to provide information on antibiotic use in cattle from 2023 and sheep from 2026.

“This will apply to Northern Ireland directly, but the other three nations indirectly too as they seek trade deals with the EU,” she added.

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