EU vet calls for data driven animal health care

18-11-2016 | | |
Photo: Eurotier
Photo: Eurotier

Alongside the subject of antimicrobial resistances, hardly any topic has been so controversially discussed in German society as the keeping conditions of farm animals, according to a top EU veterinarian who explained his visions on the subject at EuroTier.

Speaking at Hannover on the opening day, Siegfried Moder, president of the Federal Association of Practising Veterinarians (BPT) said, “Ever more, consumers want their foods to be not only of best quality and free of health risks, but also to come from farms practising animal-friendly keeping methods.

Encouraging amount of progress

“With the goal of meeting these consumer wishes, animal welfare initiatives, animal protection labels and both legislative and voluntary policy initiatives for greater animal protection have in the meantime been launched at national, state and regional level. Although there has been an encouraging amount of progress, there is still a lack of agreement in society about what animal husbandry should look like tomorrow and thereafter.

“The large number of animal welfare initiatives means that consumers no longer have a clear overview. As a consequence, the public does not experience proposed solutions to the issue as a number of coordinated milestones along the route to socially accepted animal husbandry, but instead as partly competing individual solutions with which different actors aim to distinguish themselves.

“However, not only is there an as yet unfulfilled need for an overarching goal, a strategy and an institution that filters a mix of measures out of the existing diversity which will lead to the desired end result. In addition, the considerations regarding greater animal welfare definitely lack the integration of animal health issues and thus of veterinarians.

Animal health assumes a key function

“Caught between consumer health protection, animal welfare and profitability, the health of farm animals assumes a key function. Human health depends to a large extent on animal health and maintaining animal health is active animal protection. Healthy animals are the farmer’s business capital. Every farm has 10-30% untapped potential that is connected directly with herd or flock health. Consequently, the basis of successful farming is and remains healthy animal stocks. Accordingly, it is vital to implement EU Animal Health Law in such a way that regular herd and flock visits by the farm veterinarian, such as are compulsory, for example in the Pig-keeping Hygiene Regulation, are specified by law.

“Integrating veterinary herd health care by the farm veterinarian into the production process makes it possible to lower treatment costs, ensure more targeted use of veterinary medicinal products, and at the same time to further optimise the use of antibiotics.

Antibiotic reduction in animal husbandry

“While the comparison of 24 countries in the European Union over the period 2011-2014 only shows a decline of 12% in antibiotic sales for animal husbandry, in Germany we have already achieved a great deal and halved antibiotic sales by pharmaceutical companies to veterinarians from around 1,700 to 800 metric tonnes in the space of 5 years. Despite this, we veterinarians together with the agricultural sector must still undertake further efforts in order to prevent the selection of multi-resistant germs in animal husbandry.

“As I see it therefore, database-supported veterinary herd and flock health care that involves the farm veterinarian actively in farm management is the model of the future for large animal practices. With the aid of data analysis using a herd management programme, the veterinarian is in an ideal and unrivalled position to join up animal health and economics. Together with the livestock farmer, treatments, animal observations and other data such as inseminations, calving, diagnoses, feeding and ration, lactation, descent or the lifetime productivity of the individual animals are added.

Data-driven decision making

“These are all parameters that specifically affect the operating results. From the data volume it is possible to derive farm-specific and individual animal analyses, to identify processes and cycles, and to generate information graphics. Many animal health problems can be solved prophylactically because they were identified early enough. Veterinarian work thus turns from being a cost factor to a profitability factor. Thanks to holistic and sustainable animal health and hygiene management, the farmer receives comprehensive, systematic support. Taking commercial aspects into account, all operations in the animal housing that are important for animal health and productivity are routinely optimised and monitored. The focus here is on both animal welfare and improvement of the farm’s business results.

“BPT has been actively involved in this development for years. The guidelines it has developed jointly with experts from the cattle, pig and poultry sectors for proper veterinarian activities in caring for animal and poultry stocks provide the veterinarian with the certainty of complying with statutory regulations. They are an example of applied animal protection by veterinarians. In the public dispute about animal welfare and the future of animal husbandry, it is finally time to allocate more value to the aspect of animal health.”

Rosie Burgin Editor Special Projects