A Roundup of the VetSalus Presentations at the 6th Annual One Health Congress
The 6th World One Health Congress was held virtually this year, with 5 days of online presentations concluding on One Health Day, 3rd November. This year’s virtual event saw increased reach to the global audience, as well as greater interaction between delegates and speakers with the availability of an opportunity to connect 1-1.
Three presentations were made by VetSalus directors and below we have provided a brief overview of the discussions and outcomes of their research. For the opportunity to discuss any of our work as an organisation or to speak to our consultants please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Mark Bryan BVMS MACVSc (Epi) MVS (Epi)
Assessing the Psycho-Social Impact of Animal Disease Eradication on Farmers and Rural Communities Impacted by Disease Incursions
The paper examined the human social context of animal disease and specifically, the impact of exotic disease eradication programmes on people. Large scale animal disease and epidemics, particularly exotic disease incursions which require aggressive management or eradication can’t fail to have a significant impact on the individual, but more importantly communities. This is a critical aspect of One Health.
In mid 2017, Mycoplasma bovis was first detected in NZ on a dairy farm in Canterbury. At this time this was the first known detection of M. bovis in New Zealand. The organism is classified as an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993. Subsequent tracing and testing confirmed infection on other properties, and by May of 2018, following scientific and primary sector recommendations, the Government confirmed that nationwide eradication would be attempted. The disease only infects cattle and the eradication programme required culling all cattle on infected farms.
Eradication of this disease from an entire population has never been attempted previously. The financial and epidemiological impacts are easier to predict and model than the social impact, and there are few studies that have looked at this latter aspect of disease eradication. This is an area of One Health that we believe warrants more attention. The 2 year study aims to qualitatively capture the mental and physical health and social impact of the disease, and its attempted eradication, on farmers and rural communities in the Otago and Southland regions of New Zealand. This study was a collaboration between Otago University’s Dunedin School of Medicine, and VetSouth.
The study is now in its second year, media content analysis has been completed, providing the first steps in terms of understanding the social context of this animal disease.
The analysis revealed that farmers and communities affected by M. bovis experienced many forms of adverse health and well-being impacts. These appear to have several causes – the outbreak itself, the Government’s eradication programme, the way that programme was delivered, and the cumulative nature of stressors on the sector: the more recent background media and social media commentary that tends to be strongly anti farming.
With regard to an overview of the context provided by the individual interviews, the process has been quite challenging and confronting. Many farmers are still very fragile and part of the study allows them the opportunity to reach out to support networks. Although no conclusions can be made at this stage, several key themes come through and repeat; one interviewee described the whole experience as like ‘falling down a hole with no bottom’. Many of the stories are upsetting and disturbing, but they highlight the criticality of this work: culling cows can’t be done in a social vacuum.
Feedback from local veterinarians has been similarly confronting. The most common theme emerging from this group has been that of helplessness : the newness of the disease, their lack of a role in the process, the challenge of being exposed to government bureaucracy as well as general communication issues and the fact that there simply weren’t many answers.
Critically, the psycho social impact of these sorts of animal health programmes are rarely considered. There’s often a lot of disease and economic modelling performed, but less focus on the social outcomes, nor on the long term sustainability impacts on an industry or rural communities. Viable farms are critical parts of rural communities and have a huge role to play in providing a one health framework that supports positive animal, human and environmental health.
- 'Managing - and especially eradicating- animal disease has a very strong human element. Strong social and community aspects are entangled with these animal diseases and this is best approached with a One Health lens'
- 'For rural communities, viable farms are an integral part of strong rural cohesion. Farm impacts are community impacts. The psycho-social impact of animal disease eradication needs to always be considered.'
'Can organic food production save the world?’ – the impact of organic farming on GHGs and AMU
NZ operates an almost exclusively pastoral based, seasonal dairy industry, and the vast majority of product is exported as milk powder. The local population base is low, and so consumer demand is very much secondary to international commodity trade drivers. For this reason, organic dairy production is still very much a niche area for farmers, and premiums are limited.
Data presented here is gathered from dairy farms that converted from conventional dairy farming to organic dairy farming over the past 3-5 years. Together they make up the largest organic dairy hub in the Southern Hemisphere.
A recent survey of New Zealand consumers were asked why they purchased organic foods: 67% said to promote or protect their health, 48% due to concern for environmental sustainability and 40% out of a concern for animal welfare.
We can see from this data alone that the One Health aspect of organic farming is a critical aspect. Consumers focus on the 3 areas of one health- animal, people and environmental health and welfare. These three come together in what might best be described as a ‘sustainable approach’ to farming.
We had access to data from prior to organic conversion for all of these farms, as well as current data from post conversion, and so we chose two One Health indicators that we felt were both important and reliable to analyse- antimicrobial use (AMU) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These were compared pre conversion (ie, in conventional dairy farming use to 2015/16) and post conversion, after the first full year of organic production (2018/19).
GHG production across the farming group fell by approximately 9461 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year, from around 21,000 tons to around 12,000 tons, or approximately 44%. This was made up of a reduction in stock numbers and a reduction in fertiliser applied. Stock numbers fell from just over 7000 as conventional farms, to around 5500 as organic farms. This reduction in GHGs is roughly equivalent to around 1300 fewer return flights between Edinburgh and Auckland a year.
Total AMU across the farms dropped by approximately 39.5% by weight used. PopulationCorrected Usage (PCU; mg antimicrobial/kg liveweight) was significantly reduced from approximately 10.2 PCU (2015/16) to 6.16 PCU (2018/19).This has dropped further since these data were collected to 5.35 PCU last year. More significantly, we also have seen a significant reduction in red light antimicrobial use (these are AMs that should only be used where culture and sensitivity indicates because they are deemed critically important for human medicine). These have fallen from 0.88 PCU to 0.04 PCU last year.
With the move from conventional to organic production fell, this was primarily due to the reduction in stocking rate. Per cow production following the conversion did see a slight increase and with the lower input costs and the higher value end product all farms have maintained profitability, even through the difficult conversion period.
These farms also were required to meet critical animal health and welfare benchmarks, monitored under the WelFarm© programme, as well as remaining economically sustainable and productive. The platform allows the comparison of on farm indices with regional and national data, reassuring vets, farm managers and owners that farms are not only being run well as organic farms but that cow health and welfare is also being maintained.
This analysis has tracked the impact of a set of large scale dairy farms from conventional pastoral dairy farming, to becoming a pure organic dairy pastoral hub. In the process, the farms have reduced stocking rate and hence production, but have retained profitability.
More importantly, they have significantly reduced their contribution to GHGs; and also their antimicrobial use. The group of 6 farms have demonstrated a sustainable approach to dairy farming which respects and looks after the environment, the animals and the people.
One health is fundamentally about looking after all of these things in a sustainable way.
Thanks go to Aquila Sustainable Farming for allowing the spotlight to fall on their farm.
- 'Conversion of large, pastoral based dairy farms to organics resulted in a 44% reduction in GHG production, whilst maintaining profitability. For this farm group, that's equivalent to around 1300 fewer flights between Edinburgh and Auckland per year'.
- 'Antimicrobial use also dropped by 40% across these farms; and use of critically important antibiotics have fallen to 5% of their previous use'.
- ''With a reduced stocking rate there was reduced production, but this was offset by reduced inputs (especially fertiliser) and increased premium for the organic product.'
Alasdair Moffett BVMS, MSc, MRCVS
Collating veterinary antimicrobial sales data for 192 dairy farms in South West England; and utilising the data to alter antimicrobial decision making on farm.
Data was collected across an adult cow population of circa 50,000 individuals in the South West of England registered with a single veterinary practice, Synergy Farm Health Ltd.
The efforts of the practice were focussed on a two-pronged approach. Medicine prescribing behaviour amongst vets, and antimicrobial usage behaviour amongst farmers was discussed and analysed; and the proactive veterinary approach which aims to reduce the need for antimicrobials was continued. Whilst the initial prescribing and medicine decision making alterations resulted in ‘quick wins’, the secondary ‘slow burner’ holistic approach, requiring farm investment in infrastructure and management is a never-ending process.
These changes culminated in a 42% reduction in mean Defined Course Doses and a 100% reduction in Highest Priority-Critically Important Antimicrobials over 5 years.
A whole team Antimicrobial Stewardship approach by the 40 veterinary practitioners, 20 paraprofessionals and 6 pharmacy staff was initiated. Between 2016-2018 over 450 farmers attended workshops emphasising our ability to reduce, refine and replace our antibiotics. This has resulted in both a narrowing of antimicrobial classes prescribed and administered on farm, and the overall reduction in use.
These primary reduction gains are likely to have been due to declining prophylactic use rather than actual therapeutic use diminishing. Farm assurance guidelines aim to follow the general movement of on farm standards, and with a significant proportion of farms already engaged in selective dry cow therapy, the remaining farms had a change in their contractual obligations with regard to antimicrobial dry cow therapy in October 2015, with blanket use strongly discouraged. This is the act of using an antibiotic intramammary tube at the end of lactation to remove pre-existing intramammary infections. For some this represented a cultural shift, but with time, the act of administering an intramammary antibiotic treatment regardless of infection status is longer justified.
Similarly, for the majority of farms, the use of Highest Priority Critically Important Antimicrobials (HP-CIA’s) was already minimal. However, with farm assurance guidelines stipulating from June 2018 that HP-CIA’s could only be used if laboratory culture and sensitivity bacteriology proved them absolutely necessary, their use has dropped to zero. These are both examples of farm assurance’s ability to help us achieve our aims.
The continual improvements in farm infrastructure and management may require alterations in nutrition, vaccination policy, stocking density, housing and ventilation, slurry management, stockmanship and genetics to name a few. Improvements in any one or these, or multiple are likely to reduce the overall need for antimicrobials. In reality, the antimicrobial stewardship drive has allowed us to re-emphasise the preventative health-care approach we all want to practice. Incorporated in Antimicrobial Stewardship is the oft quoted, ‘What you don’t measure, you don’t know’. Although antimicrobial use has been reduced by 41.98%, the successive reductions annually prove there is still potential for further reductions. Now the low-picking fruit has been harvested, we have plenty work left to do.