Farmers and policy-makers – Knowing what’s best for livestock farming in Europe
As EU debates on new CAP budgets and the impacts of livestock farming on the environment, on our health and on animal welfare boil away, AnimalhealthEurope’s PR Manager Clare Carlisle wonders if a farm visit might add a pinch of perception.

In my job I’m around animal medicines industry experts practically every day of the week, exchanging thoughts on EU policies and the latest public debates that touch on animals and their health and welfare. A recent visit to a Dutch dairy farm, run by a reassuringly young farmer – Yes! young people are still keen to get into farming – really served as an eye-opener for me.

A simple chat with the farmer helped me to understand better how farmers have been managing the health and welfare of the animals in their care, abiding by hundreds of rules and trying to mitigate environmental impacts, all while ensuring their livelihood and the future viability of their farms. With all these demands, it’s encouraging, but also a little surprising, that any young person would want to be responsible for producing the wonderfully nutritious milk that ends up in the delicious cheeses, tasty yogurts or ever so enjoyable ice-cream that many of us enjoy – in moderation of course.

Discussing the latest topical debates such as antibiotic use in animals, the 28 year old farmer who grew up on this family farm, was quick to respond. He said he has no call for using antibiotics unless it’s absolutely necessary, if one of his cows get sick. He told me about their weekly vet visits to check on herd health, and how he works together with his vet to try to prevent diseases entering the farm by implementing biosecurity measures, using vaccines, providing appropriate feed, and so forth.

He also pointed out that if any of his cows fall ill with a bacterial infection, then not only does this mean time and resources needed to treat the infection, to ensure a good return to health and to try to avoid spread, but during this time, he loses all milk produced. This milk loss continues until the medicines are out of her system, as withdrawal periods must also be respected.

Europe’s policymakers and legislators have made great advances, putting in place rules and measures to help ensure good animal health management, monitor diseases and support sustainable farming practices. Sometimes however socio-political views can take hold, and there can be concerns that politics may trump more balanced judgements.

So how do policy-makers achieve a balance when it comes to decision-making? Do they talk to farmers about their experiences? What reflections do they have when it comes to equipping farmers for the future? I believe that ensuring our health, and that of our animals while protecting the environment, is dependent on finding a balance on measures taken to safeguard health while ensuring a sustainable future livestock production.

One final thought following this farm visit. A recently published report has made reflections on the situation where more than half of the European Parliament’s AGRI Committee MEPs have a connection with farming in some way or another. Am I alone in thinking that having some background knowledge of farming might actually be quite useful when you’re charged with setting policies that concern farmers?

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