The use of antimicrobials in animal health on the island of Ireland: Knowledge, attitudes and behaviours
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This research project aimed to provide a holistic (complete, integrated) insight into identifying and understanding the behaviours of farmers and veterinarians with respect to the use of antimicrobials – treatments that can kill disease-causing microorganisms – within different livestock industries.
Researchers used an “interdisciplinary” and “multi-actor” approach – combining many disciplines, or branches of research and learning, and involving many different individuals and organisations, or “actors” – to gain detailed, valuable information.
The project was conducted with a view to enhancing our current understanding of behavioural patterns (both use, and the wide range of factors influencing use, of antimicrobials) amongst farmers and veterinarians on the island of Ireland and to recommend “interventions” (strategies) that can help to support good practices amongst these actors, with respect to animal health.
The specific objectives of this research project were to
- Determine the
- Current practices in the use of antimicrobials in meat and dairy producing animals on the island of Ireland
- Alternatives to using antimicrobials in animal health, for example improvements in biosecurity (prevention of infection and further spread of disease), use of vaccines and so on
- Assess attitudes towards
- Antimicrobial usage
- The problem of antimicrobial resistance (the overuse or misuse of antimicrobials, causing reduced effectiveness of the treatment in animals and humans and contaminating the environment)
- Use of alternatives to antimicrobials amongst farmers and prescribing veterinarians
- Identify behavioural drivers and barriers and facilitators to the
- Responsible use of antimicrobials
- Use of alternatives to antimicrobials in meat and dairy producing animals
- Develop behaviour-change interventions for overcoming identified barriers and leveraging (making best use of) identified opportunities to promote and facilitate responsible use of antimicrobials in meat and dairy producing animals
Measuring antimicrobial usage at farm level
The research project produced the first review of veterinary antimicrobial use in all livestock sectors in Ireland, providing an overview of all data currently available and identifying important knowledge gaps. Unfortunately, data from NI is aggregated with data from Great Britain and published as for the UK as a whole, and so data for NI could not be included in this part of the project.
The project launched an antibiotic use calculator for dairy herds for use in Ireland, during World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2020. The calculator aims to help farmers “self-monitor” their use of antibiotics (treatments that can kill specific bacteria), acting as a tool to support behaviour change.
Our partners in the desk-based study to determine current usage of antimicrobials and alternatives in animals adapted the University of Nottingham Dairy Antimicrobial Usage Calculator for use in an Irish setting. The tool is available as a Microsoft® Excel® document and is publicly available to download for free in the antimicrobial resistance section of the “Teagasc” website. (Teagasc is the state agency providing research, advice and education in agriculture, horticulture, food and rural development in Ireland.)
A press release was issued by Teagasc announcing the launch of the tool to the farming community. The impact of this tool is to allow farmers and veterinarians to self-monitor their antibiotic use, observe trends, set goals, monitor progress and take action. This tool empowers farmers and veterinarians to make “bottom-up” change at the individual farm level to tackle overuse or misuse of antibiotics, rather than responding to a “top-down” requirement from governments and public authorities, such as the introduction of new legislation or imposing penalties for noncompliance with regulations.
Understanding knowledge, attitudes and behaviour
This project is the first study to apply the theoretical “COM-B Model” and the “Behaviour Change Wheel” to the study of antimicrobial use in the farming sector on the island of Ireland, advancing the application of this theoretical framework to new areas. (The COM-B Model suggests that 3 factors, Capability, Opportunity and Motivation, affect Behaviour and that inducing a change in behaviour requires modifying at least one of these factors. The Behaviour Change Wheel provides a systematic way of identifying appropriate intervention functions to effect behaviour change.
Insights produced by the project and distributed widely to stakeholders (the people affected or involved) have highlighted the behavioural impact at an individual and interpersonal level of the new regulations being introduced in 2022 (see point 5 on page 8) and the challenges that farmers and animal health professionals will require support with. Through ongoing stakeholder engagement and empirical (that is, practical rather than theoretical) research, it has become clear that providing expertise in behaviour change can help to navigate the new measures required to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance at policy, community, interpersonal and individual level.
The project has also developed a new self-report antimicrobial usage measure, which measures farmers’ antimicrobial usage behavioural patterns, and piloted it (trialled it) in a national survey providing data for testing of the validity and reliability of this new measuring scale.
Codesigning behaviour-change interventions
The research project has developed a range of behaviour-change interventions that will be publicly available, offering stakeholders a behavioural lens through which to consider the challenges of antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial use on the island of Ireland.
The report outlines 7 ideas that can be taken, adapted and put into practice by the “agrifood” (food farming) community to support good animal health practices and responsible antimicrobial use on farms. The project has also developed a specialised training programme for animal health professionals, such as veterinarians and farm advisors. The course is designed to train animal health professionals in the practice of “motivational interviewing” – a collaborative communication approach developed by psychologists and used extensively in human health settings, which draws on individuals’ inner motivation to change rather than responses to external pressures. The Motivational Interviewing training programme will be delivered to the first group of veterinarians in 2022 as part of the follow-on project researching antimicrobial usage on farms.
The provision of technical animal health advice and information using specialised communication strategies can improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance and influence motivations to reduce antimicrobial usage in the farming community.