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Antimicrobial use in agriculture

Antimicrobial use in agriculture

New research highlights farmer-vet relationship key to tackling use of antimicrobials in agriculture 

28 September 2022: The relationship between farmer and vet is key to the behaviour changes needed to reduce the use of antimicrobials in agriculture, a seminar today will hear. The new research, which was funded by safefood, surveyed more than 400 farmers and veterinarians on the island of Ireland. 

The two-year, cross-border project led by a multi-disciplinary team involving Teagasc, Queen’s University Belfast and University College Dublin looked at the behaviours of farmers and veterinarians in the usage of antimicrobials as well as the barriers and facilitators to responsible use. The research also examined the factors underpinning attitudes towards antimicrobial usage and antimicrobial resistance in meat and dairy-producing animals.

Among farmers, almost 2 in 3 (64%) said that they had already made some changes to their antimicrobial usage and in general were positively disposed towards future changes to their usage practices. The introduction of subsidized vaccination programmes or other financial incentives were also seen by famers as positive levers to reduce usage. Among vets, the research identified barriers and facilitators towards more effective antimicrobial usage and how that could be practically implemented on the ground.

Introducing the research, Dr Áine Regan Teagasc said ““It is challenging to change the routine way the health of animals has been managed for many years. The first step is to understand why changes are required in the face of this invisible threat, what changes are required and who needs to make them.”

“Research increasingly talks of a shift in the role of veterinarians and farm advisors on farms from being reactive to proactive,” continued Áine. “Rather than a traditional role of responding to disease on farms, they play an active part in providing advice on best herd health management practices and with that, information on best antibiotic practices and the mantra, ‘as little as possible, but as much as necessary’. For this role to work successfully, they must be able to deliver information successfully and where necessary, promote behavioural changes in farmers through motivating them and facilitating collaborative decision making.”

Dr Gary Kearney, interim CEO safefood continued: “This research project took a ground-up approach involving both famers and vets. By understanding their shared experiences and knowledge as well as co-creating interventions with farmers and vets that could work, we’re more informed on how best to tackle the issue of antimicrobial usage in agriculture.

Professor Moira Dean, Queen’s University added “We underpinned our research in behaviour change theory, which enables us to assess a person’s ability, motivation, and opportunity to act and how all these factors can influence their behaviour. These findings fed into practice-ready, evidence-based interventions which combine the voice of both farmers and veterinarians.” One of the behaviour-change interventions designed by the project was a specialised training programme for animal health professionals, such as vets and farm advisors. The provision of technical animal health advice and information using specialised communication strategies can improve awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance, and influence motivations and confidence in ability to reduce antimicrobial use in the farming community.

As a result of this research project, additional funding has been received with pilot projects being delivered by psychologists in Animal Health Ireland and Teagasc in order to trial the interventions. “Behaviour-change recommendations from the safefood project have been embedded into veterinary training and consults for both the CellCheck national mastitis control programme and the Pig Healthcheck programme” continues Alison Burrell, Health Psychologist at Animal Health Ireland. “This is a new approach for many, which has been well received. There has been a lot of interest in a new training programme funded through the AMU-farm project which is in collaboration with Teagasc and Queens University Belfast. This will deliver training to both vets and farm advisors in communication and behaviour change to support collaborative herd health consults with herdowners around tailored animal health management and prudent antibiotic use on farm.”

The findings from the project will be discussed at a joint safefood  / Teagasc seminar on 28 September at Teagasc, Ashtown, Dublin 15 .

Download the report: The use of antimicrobials in animal health on the island of Ireland: knowledge, attitudes and behaviours


For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Wilson Hartnell           
Heidi Morgan  
[email protected] 

Mob +353 (0)87 297 2046  


Dermot Moriarty/Maeve Wrixon  
Mob: +353 86 381 1034 (Dermot)  

+353 87 437 2080 (Maeve)  
Email: [email protected] 

Editor’s notes: 

What are antimicrobials?  

Antimicrobials are treatments that can kill disease-causing microorganisms. Imprudent (overuse or misuse) antimicrobial usage is accelerating the development of resistant bacteria, with serious consequences for treatment of infections in humans. Antimicrobial resistance poses a major public health threat, with huge social and economic costs. The European Commission’s ‘From Farm to Fork’ strategy has set a 2030 target of reducing sales of antimicrobials in agriculture and aquaculture by 50%, and this will mean significant changes for farmers and vets regarding how and when antimicrobials can be used. 

Farmer survey 

A total of 392 farmers were surveyed to determine how antimicrobials are currently used. The survey found that social support and the experience-level of the farmer were the greatest predictors of behavioural change. Generally, participants were positively disposed to changing their antimicrobial usage practices, and believed that this was possible at farm level, with 64% saying they had already made some changes. Respondents suggested introducing subsidised vaccination programmes or financial bonuses as a suitable approach to promote reduced antimicrobial usage. They thought introducing policies and regulations restricting the use of antimicrobials was not very helpful. 

Veterinary survey 

Twenty-eight vets were given test-case scenarios describing responsible antimicrobial usage and asked questions that were designed to (a) elicit their perceptions towards responsible antimicrobial use; (b) identify the barriers and motivators for implementing such an approach; and (c) garner their own views on alternative treatment plans. The barriers included the farmers’ attitude towards antimicrobial use and the pressure on vets to prescribe them. “ 

The facilitators included a gradual approach to reducing antibiotic use, encouraged greater communication between farmer and vet, tailored treatment plans, and assigning one vet per farm to help build a relationship with the farmer. Moira noted that the emphasis should be on relationship building and fostering better communication so that the farmer takes ownership and feels in control, that they are making the changes needed with guidance rather than being told what to do. This empirical work with farmers and vets informed effective and targeted intervention design. Seven behavioural change interventions, grounded in behavioural science, were developed, and a co-design process with 70 diverse agrifood stakeholders ensured these interventions were feasible and practical.  

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