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Antimicrobial resistance study begins on Welsh farms

As part of the Arwain DGC project, bacterial sampling is being undertaken in order to assess the abundance and types of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria on Welsh dairy, beef and sheep farms

Press release issued: 7 June 2022

Bacterial sampling is now underway to assess the abundance and types of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in bacteria on Welsh dairy, beef and sheep farms.

The study, which researchers at the University of Bristol are coordinating, is part of Arwain DGC – a project designed to help combat antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in animals and the environment in Wales.

Launched last year, Arwain DGC aims to reduce the need to use antimicrobials such as antibiotics by improving productivity, animal health and welfare through new and innovative technology and 'good practice'.

Data obtained by analysing environmental faecal samples from a selected group of Welsh farms over 12 months will assist researchers in learning more about what factors are associated with AMR on farms. These data will also help inform the design of a robust AMR surveillance system for Wales in the future.

Participating farms have volunteered to be part of the study and the samples and information from accompanying farmer questionnaires – along with data on antimicrobial sales to the farm - are anonymised. A core of 50 farms (20 dairy, ten beef, ten sheep, and ten beef/sheep farms) from across Wales have been recruited.

Environmental faecal samples are taken monthly from various locations on each farm by vets from 14 veterinary practices involved in the study. Samples are taken from areas such as animal housing, collection yards, pens and pasture.

The samples are then cultured to identify the presence of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which are used in such studies to give an indication of the level of AMR on each farm.

The study is led by Professors Kristen Reyher and Matthew Avison from the University of Bristol, who lead Bristol AMR.

Matthew Avison, Professor of Molecular Bacteriology in Bristol's School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, said: "Sample collection started in mid-April, and we are very pleased with how it is going. Farmers have been engaging well with the study, and we are very grateful to them and the vets who have important relationships with the farms and are out collecting the monthly samples.

"Over the next 12 months, we aim to get a cross-section of animal samples – young, old, mixed species – to give us a ‘real-time’ picture of what is happening on farms at different points throughout the year.

"From our previous experience sampling dairy farms in the southwest of England, we know that, in February, there is very little AMR on farms, but in September, it is easily detectable. However, we have not sampled beef and sheep farms before, so to start seeing the samples come in is exciting."

He added, “We hope this work will be used as evidence to recommend to Welsh Government how best to take samples from farms to look at AMR should they ever want to introduce a surveillance system.”

Kristen Reyher, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Population Health at Bristol Veterinary School, added: "Farmers and vets have done so much together in the last few years to ensure they are being good stewards of important medicines like antibiotics. Our work comparing their antibiotic use and other management factors with the AMR we find on farms continues to help us unpick the relationships between what happens on farms and in the environment as well as better understand the selection and transmission of AMR. The Arwain DGC project is a great example of Wales leading the way on providing important information about AMR to the world, and we stand ready to get to work on these data that are now rolling in."

Further information

Arwain DGC is closely aligned to the Welsh Government’s five-year AMR in Animals and the Environment Implementation Plan (2019 – 2024). This project has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

About antimicrobial resistance
Over-reliance on antimicrobials has led to some antibiotics losing their efficacy and ability to fight infections.

Globally, in 2019, 1.2 million people are estimated to have died from bacterial infections that did not respond to antibiotics.

AMR is classed as a global 'One Health' challenge and described by The World Health Organization as an issue where "without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill."

About Arwain DGC
Arwain DGC (Defnydd Gwrthfaicrobaidd Cyfrifol/Responsible Antimicrobial Use) builds on the pioneering work of an earlier project - Arwain Vet Cymru (AVC) - which focused on improving antibiotic prescribing in cattle and sheep through a Wales-wide network of Veterinary Prescribing Champions. AVC’s work has subsequently become the blueprint for similar schemes across the UK and globally.

Arwain DGC comprises a schedule of activities and brings together experienced collaborators to deliver a wide-ranging programme addressing AMR in animals and the environment.

Included are key Welsh agricultural stakeholders (Menter a Busnes, Welsh Lamb and Beef Producers Ltd and Welsh Agricultural Organisation Society), academic institutions (University of Bristol and Aberystwyth University School of Veterinary Science) and veterinary delivery partners (Iechyd Da and Milfeddygon Gogledd Cymru).

The overall Arwain DGC project is led by Menter a Busnes, with each partner responsible for specialist elements of its delivery, including:

  • Extending the Veterinary Prescribing Champions Network previously developed by the Arwain Vet Cymru project.
  • Developing national prescribing guidelines for cattle and sheep.
  • Delivering a voluntary code of conduct for antimicrobial prescribing across farm practices.
  • Using novel technology to explore biosecurity and precision agriculture solutions.
  • Understanding associations between antimicrobial use and AMR and developing Welsh surveillance programmes.
  • Understanding patterns of AMU in the equine industry.
  • Delivering knowledge exchange programmes.

About Bristol AMR
Bristol AMR is a cross-faculty Research Strand funded by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, through the University's Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF). AMR research at the University of Bristol focuses on interdisciplinary approaches to tackling AMR with research conducted across all of our six faculties.



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