Driving responsible use of antimicrobials

Researchers, practitioners and industry bodies across the food chain successfully combined forces for policy and practitioner changes in antimicrobial use on farms and in veterinary practices.

A group of researchers in the Bristol Veterinary School have successfully combined forces to inspire and deliver significant policy and practitioner changes in antimicrobial use on farms and in veterinary practices.

The increase of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and drug-resistant infections is a growing problem for human and animal health. Antimicrobials (AMs) are widely used in food-producing animals, which may reduce their effectiveness for treatment across species and posing a potential risk of spread of AMR bacteria from animals to humans.

The AMR Force, an interdisciplinary research group led by Dr Kristen Reyher has collaborated successfully with researchers, practitioners and industry bodies across the food chain to influence the use of AMs in the livestock sector. Working to change both policy and practice, the group have engaged farmers and veterinarians, retailers and suppliers, as well as farming, medical and industry stakeholders.

The academics involved represent a spectrum of veterinary, biological, medical and social sciences. Over the last three years, they have shared the results of their research widely, actively participating in initiatives to inform policy and to influence the national research agenda. They are represented on the board of Antibiotic Action among other leading bodies and have been key speakers at events such as the Global Leaders Forum on AMR which informed government ministers ahead of the G7, G20 and UN General Assembly 2016 meetings. They have also been represented at All Party Parliamentary Group and House of Lords meetings on AMR. 

At a practical level, the group continue to inform and change the prescribing practices of veterinarians nationally and internationally. One example of their effectiveness is the cessation of use of the AMs of highest importance to human health AMs on client farms of the Langford Farm Animal Practice, part of Langford Vets, with no reduction in animal health, welfare or productivity (Turner et al.,2018). Elsewhere they’ve worked with and trained veterinarians across the country, including those at Friars Moor Veterinary Clinic, who as a result changed their prescribing practices, resulting in cessation of prescriptions of critically important AMs within one year.

Another successful collaboration led to the development of an AM stewardship policy using participatory methods with dairy farmers supplying a major retailer: 100% of farmers engaged in the policy development and designed an impressive and challenging policy (van Dijk et al., 2016). Six months after the policy was launched, 70% of farmers and veterinarians indicated they had had changed their AM use.

The group have also raised public awareness on AMR in the wider society, speaking on BBC Farming Today and at numerous Soil Association and Alliance to Save our Antibiotics events, as well as using social media to promote their work (you can follow them on Twitter at @AMRForce). And in 2018 they won a prestigious Antibiotic Guardian Award in recognition of their achievements in tackling AMR.

The team regularly informs industry and legislative bodies such as AHDB Dairy, Dairy UK, RUMA, CHaWG, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Defra. They have also actively contributed to One Health Initiatives through BSAC and Antibiotic Action and to high-level advice on AM use policies including the O’Neill Report.

In 2016, the Group were awarded a £1.5m grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to investigate AMR in companion and farmed animals and implications for transmission to humans. In 2017 Bristol secured a grant through the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) cross-research council initiative, in partnership with the Department of Health, to lead an inter-disciplinary research project to tackle the growing threat of antibacterial drug resistance (ABR) in Thailand. And in 2018 a consortium led by Bristol won a £2.9m award from the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).  In total, they currently steward over £8m in funding from Research Councils UK (BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC) as well as various industry (AHDB Dairy, MSD Animal Health, Zoetis UK, WD Farmers, Coombe Farm) and charity funders (Soil Association, The Langford Trust), and international bodies (EU H2020, Formas – Sweden).

AMR Force work was publicly recognised by the University when they won the 2016 Vice Chancellor’s Impact Award (Health and Wellbeing).

Dr Reyher also led the Global Resource for Online Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine (EBVM) Learning project which produced the widely used eLearning site ebvmlearning.org, now managed by Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Knowledge.

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