Farmers have been warned that, within the next twenty years, all medicines could be lost due to resistance unless ‘dramatic’ changes are made to farm systems.
peaking at the Teagasc national lowland sheep conference in Monaghan on Tuesday night, principal scientist in parasitology at the Pastoral Agricultural Research Centre (AgResearch) in New Zealand, Dave Leathwick, said that resistance has become the norm on farms.
“We have far too many people which I would describe as ostriches, who just want to keep going and doing the same old thing they’ve always done,” Mr Leathwick said.
“I was on a farm six months ago and a farmer told me he had lost €60,000 in stock through drug resistance.”
The parasite expert said that scientists now assume that drug resistance is present on all farms.
“Twenty five years ago drug resistance was an oddity. It was sufficiently odd that it was actually quite interesting. Now the interesting thing is to find a farm that doesn’t have any,” he said.
“I would be very surprised if there’s more than two or three people in this room that have farms that don’t have resistance. And if you were in New Zealand I would say there’s probably none.”
Mr Leathwick said that the problem has come to a head recently due to a lack of testing amongst farmers of the efficacy of drenches they are giving to their flocks.
“They have an almost pathological loathing of testing. In New Zealand today we have triple drench resistance which is running rampant in the sheep industry, and we still can’t get farmers to test,” he continued.
“I’ve heard many times that it’s too difficult and too expensive, but I can assure you it’s nowhere near as difficult or expensive as dealing with a resistance problem when you have animals dying in the paddock.”
The researcher also said there was too much of a reliance on wormers amongst farmers and that conflicting messages has led to confusion.
“In New Zealand, vets, drug companies and retailers sell drench. The papers are full of advertisements which contradict each other and they all say a whole lot of things, most of which are not true, in order to get you guys to buy a product that you may or may not need.
“Then there’s us, the little science group, who are trying to fight with a low budget, and tell the truth. The poor farmers get confused and they don’t know what to do, so they don’t do anything.”
Mr Leathwick warned that in New Zealand farms are facing severe financial difficulty as a result of not being able to control parasites using conventional routes, now having to turn to much more expensive alternatives.
On a positive note the AgResearch scientist highlighted that some flocks, who previously had severe drench resistance were making progress in combating the issue.
“It’s not the end of the road with drug resistance, you can come back. The bad news is it requires significant change to the farming business and it’s difficult to do,” Mr Leathwick said.
“The first step is to always test to see if what you are doing is working. The other question I get from farmers is what drench should I be using? My answer is what is your resistance status?
“Without information you can’t make good decisions. Refugia, retaining some good worms on your farm is vital. Total [blanket] drenching will lead to disaster.
“If you don’t want to test and you don’t want to take early action then good luck, because you’re going to need it.”
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