Just 40 per cent of people in the EU believe medicines have a positive impact on the welfare of farm animals. That’s according to a recent survey from IFAH-Europe, the federation representing manufacturers of veterinary medicines. So all of us with an interest in animal health clearly have a lot of work to do in raising public awareness about the role of animal medicines – not just in terms of the benefits to animals themselves, but in the wider societal benefits of food security and in human health.
This is perhaps nowhere more relevant than in the field of antibiotics. Antibiotics Awareness Day aims to spread an evidence-based message about responsible use, but we know there is a great deal of misinformation out there. I believe organisations like ours have an important role in bringing clarity to the dialogue around the use of antibiotics. For me, the challenge is not simply in raising awareness about ‘the issue’ of antibiotic resistance per se, but in raising awareness of its complexities and nuances.
It’s a tall order, I know. But on balance, I think most people surveyed would understand the broad sentiment expressed by the animal health industry – that we have an ethical responsibility to treat sick animals today, while also safeguarding antibiotics for future generations through responsible use. Our job in the industry is to ensure people actually see these facts, so their viewpoint – whatever it may be – is at least an informed perspective.
Similarly, we have some work to do in raising the profile of other animal health tools that play such a vital role in reducing the use of antibiotics; ranging from good herd management practices to enzymes or vaccines. The IFAH-Europe survey revealed that two thirds of people believe pets should be regularly vaccinated like children, while just 50 per cent thought farm animals should be vaccinated.
It is telling that more than 70% of respondents either don’t know or don’t think medicines given to farm animals make food safer1. This is despite recent success stories such as the reduction of salmonella cases in humans by almost 50 per cent since 2004 through vaccination.1 What this says to me is that many consumers simply don’t ‘join the dots’ between animal health and the food on their plate (with sustainable production in between).
As we mark Antibiotics Awareness Day, we in the animal health industry have a responsibility to join those dots for them. We should celebrate our successes, be transparent about the failures of the past and continue safeguarding medicines for the future.
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