Researchers to analyse milk samples using mass spectrometry.
Researchers at Queen's University Belfast are working to develop a new, rapid test for bovine mastitis that could also help in the battle against antibiotic resistance.
The project will utilise mass spectrometry to develop a rapid diagnosis of mastitis from a suspected milk sample. Initially, this will require laboratory equipment, but researchers hope it could eventually be developed into an on-site test to enable faster detection of the condition.
Bovine mastitis poses a major challenge to the farming industry owing to its impact on cattle health and welfare, the difficulties in controlling the condition and the need to withhold milk from human consumption during treatment and recovery.
Currently, dairy farmers visually check for the condition during the milking process - looking for changes such as the formation of clots and any heat or swelling of the udder. The monitoring of 'somatic cell counts' is also used to screen for the disease, but samples need to be sent away for culture and sensitivity tests, which can take several days.
To minimise the pain and suffering of the cow, broad-spectrum antibiotics are often administered before the samples are sent off. But researchers say this therapeutic use of antibiotics could be contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
In this project, scientists at Queen's will use REIMS technology (Rapid Evaporative Ionization Mass Spectrometry) to analyse milk samples. Not only would this method be more user-friendly for farmers, but it could also deliver near-instant results and reduce – if not eliminate - the need for broad-spectrum antibiotics.
Dr Simon Cameron from the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) at Queen’s said the REIMS project could have a positive impact on agriculture, the agrifood industry and society as a whole.
“REIMS is a fairly new technology and we are constantly finding new applications for it. It has the potential to be a step-change in how we use mass spectrometry to address problems facing society and this project investigates just one of these," he said.
“By being able to analyse samples more quickly, and in a way that is more user-friendly to the farmer, we hope to be able to bring the benefit of mass spectrometry to dairy farmers through rapid diagnosis of bovine mastitis and identification of the causal microbe.”
Interestingly, this same project will explore lameness in dairy cattle, of which current diagnosis also involves visual observation. Reseacrhers will conduct a longitudinal study on a dairy herd to assess a naturally occurring molecule or gene, using REIMS to identify potential ‘biomarkers’ that could flag up a proclivity towards lameness.
The project is being carried out in partnership with AgriSearch and the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI).
Scientists have analysed genetic regions in chickens that are linked to the resistance of campylobacter, the leading cause of food poisoning in people.
Their study revealed that while there are genetic factors that influence the colonisation of campylobacter, they only play a minor role, meaning that a better understanding of non-genetic factors is required to further reduce campylobacter levels in poultry.
The research was led by the RVC and the Roslin Institute in collaboration with the poultry breeding company Aviagen and published in the journal Nature.
Study lead Dr Androniki Psifidi, a lecturer in veterinary clinical genetics at the RVC, said “Although we identified a genetic component to resistance of chickens to campylobacter, this was relatively small, and the majority of the chickens we studied already carried regions of the genome associated with resistance to gut colonisation. According to our results, other non-genetic factors play a greater role and will need to be considered in the design of control strategies.”
In the study, researchers investigated the genetic make-up of 3,000 chickens bred for meat to see if elements of the chickens’ genetic code were linked to resistance to colonisation by campylobacter bacteria.
The team explored variation at specific positions in the chickens’ genome and their link with numbers of campylobacter in the gut of the birds. They also analysed the expression of genes in chickens that were resistant or susceptible to colonisation by the bacteria.
All the chickens used in the study were naturally exposed to campylobacter present in their environment, which mimics how chickens are exposed on a commercial farm.
A new report has highlighted the need for a dedicated body for farm animal health and welfare, led by the farming and veterinary sectors.
The report, entitled 'Animal Medicine Best Practice: Unlocking the potential for UK farming' was compiled by vet and animal health policy expert Grace O’Gorman under the Nuffield Farming Scholarships.
In the report, Dr O'Gorman also makes policy changes and practical recommendations for biosecurity, antibiotics, vaccines, parasites and pain control.
She explained: “Livestock farmers are challenged to farm in more sustainable and productive ways, whilst staying in business. Consumers and Government want to know more about how medicines are used on farm and this scrutiny is set to intensify as farming is directly supported by the public purse.
“At the same time, the UK is on the cusp of trading in a world market outside of the EU block. These converging paths have raised the stakes and there is a need to take a fresh look at the national ambition for animal health and welfare and how it can deliver on all fronts for farmers and society.”
Dr O'Gorman visited Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and New Zealand to understand the influencing factors on animal health and welfare that support animal medicine best practice.
She concludes there is a need for a model framework that uses a top-down and bottom-up approach and considers the nature of veterinary services, effective use of data, diagnostics, biosecurity and training.
“Building a resilient and sustainable farming system must be a priority," she said. "We are standing at a crossroads with new trading and regulatory environments, societal pressures on food, welfare, and the environment, all in sight. How we move forward will impact farm life, livestock and how food is produced for years to come.”
Dr O'Gorman presented her findings during the recent Nuffield Farming Virtual Mini-Conference Series. Her presentation can be viewed on Nuffield Farming’s YouTube channel.
The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute (RABI) has launched a new survey which aims to assess the impact of “increasingly complex challenges” within the sector on people's mental and physical wellbeing, as well as their businesses.
The largest ever survey of it's kind, the Big Farming Survey aims to achieve 26,000 responses from people in the farming sector in England and Wales.
Chief executive Alicia Chivers said: “RABI is acutely aware of the mounting pressures in the sector. To serve our community effectively, we require a greater understanding of how these factors affect daily life which is why we’ve launched the Big Farming Survey.
“Setting the ambitious goal of 26,000 responses will ensure we can build the most comprehensive picture of life in agriculture today.
“The research will enable us to formulate more effective tools and support strategies to enhance farmer wellbeing now and into the future.”
The survey has been developed in partnership with the Centre for Rural Research at the University of Exeter, along with key stakeholders and partners from the agricultural industry.
It forms part of RABI's five-year strategy that will help the charity to reach a wider audience and support the wellbeing of everyone in the farming sector.
Ms Chivers continued: “There is growing awareness that there are some fundamental wellbeing issues in farming that need to be better understood and addressed.
“We are working with a range of partners so that we can develop effective, preventative services that fulfil the needs of farming people and make a valuable difference.”
The Big Farming Survey takes 15 minutes to complete and is open to all farmers, farm workers, spouses and adult-aged children.
The survey runs until 31 March 2021 and can be completed by clicking here.
The UK government has announced plans to consult on gene-edited crops and livestock.
Environment secretary George Eustice said on Thursday (7 January) that gene editing could help farmers with crops resistant to pests, disease or extreme weather, and produce healthier, more nutritious food.
Under a 2018 legal ruling from the European Court of Justice, gene editing is regulated in the same way as genetic modification.
Mr Eustice said that the 10-week consultation will focus on preventing them from been regulated in the same way, as long as they have been produced naturally or by a wide range of countries.
Speaking at the digital Oxford Farming Conference, Mr Eustice said: “Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that mother nature has provided, in order to tackle the challenges of our age. This includes breeding crops that perform better, reducing costs to farmers and impacts on the environment, and helping us all adapt to the challenges of climate change.
“Its potential was blocked by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2018, which is flawed and stifling to scientific progress. Now that we have left the EU, we are free to make coherent policy decisions based on science and evidence. That begins with this consultation.”
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has welcomed the consultation, saying “it could be a very important tool to help us meet the challenges for the future.”
But the move has sparked concern from the RSPCA, which said it would be a “huge mistake” for government to “water down” the legislation.
RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “The RSPCA is very concerned about government plans to weaken legislation on livestock gene editing in England. This could lead to food from genetically altered animals being offered for sale on supermarket shelves or in restaurants, an unwanted and unacceptable development even if the food were labelled.
“Over and above the forthcoming government consultation, we would like to see a national debate taking place rather than just rush to deregulate gene editing. There are many questions to be considered and the public has the right to be informed and engaged in this debate and for us all to understand what this means for animal welfare.”
The consultation is now open and will run until Wednesday 17 March.
Consultation on changes to farming standards launched
The UK's largest food standards scheme Red Tractor is seeking input from across the farming industry for a new consultation on ways to advance its farm standards.
The consultation, which opened on Monday (4 January), put forward proposals on amendments to standards across the scheme's six sectors; beef and lamb, poultry, pigs, dairy, fresh produce and combinable crops and sugar beet.
These proposed standards will come into effect in November 2021 and have been developed in collaboration with farming organisations, veterinary professionals, farmers and retailers over the past 12 months.
Red Tractor CEO Jim Moseley said: “These proposals strive to strike a delicate balance which protects and promotes our members, reassures consumers and customers, while acknowledges the implications of the challenges that the industry faces with future trade deals and the agricultural transition plan.”
Examples of these proposed changes include:
- having animal welfare outcomes linked to standards and providing clear guidelines as to what is and isn't acceptable when handling animals
- integrating worker welfare into the standards to ensure members are working to protect the safety and wellbeing of farm workers. This will help improve UK agriculture's health and safety record, as farming is currently identified as an at-risk sector for labour exploitation
- more meaningful and accessible environmental protection standards adapted from Defra's Farming Rules for Water, which aim to reduce soil erosion and nutrient run-off.
In addition to the Standards Consultation, Red Tractor has also launched the What Matters To You Survey. This asks industry workers and representatives for their views on how Red Tractor can better understand their business and work with them more closely.
Further information, including a full list of proposed changes by sector and information on how to respond to the consultation can be found on the Red Tractor review hub.
The consultation and review closes on 5 March 2021.
Deployment will be available for up to seven days.
Veterinary providers can now request temporary locum support from the APHA if they are struggling to meet the demands for export health certificates (EHC).
Since January 1, exporters of live animals and products of animal origin must have an export health certificate (EHC) to enter the EU or to transit through an EU country. An Official Vet (OV) or local authority inspector is required to inspect the consignment and sign the EHC in the days before the export.
A notice from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on Tuesday (5 January) sets out what veterinary providers can do if they cannot meet the demand. It makes clear that to escalate a case, veterinary providers should contact firstname.lastname@example.org with their contact details.
The provider will then receive a form within one working day asking for an overview of the product type, its destination and any other good transiting through. APHA will then assess the availability of its surge resource and aims to complete this process within two working days.
APHA states that support will be available across the UK, 'subject to available resource and competing priorities'. To be considered, the veterinary provider must be able to provide clear evidence of a significant demand for EHC services and/or significant reduction in certifier supply, such as staff absence.
Initially, the deployments will last for a maximum of seven days and veterinary provider will be expected to pay for the OV's time as per the agreement with the APHA certification capacity team.
Deployed staff will have their transport and phone, but other requirements such as laptop and printers may need to be met by the certification provider, the APHA said.
A 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone has been declared around the premises.
A protection zone has been placed around a premises in Exmouth, Devon, after the confirmation of avian influenza in backyard poultry.
The discovery has been confirmed by government officials as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N8.
An update from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) on Wednesday (30 December) reads: 'Highly pathogenic (H5N8) avian influenza has been confirmed in backyard poultry at a premises near Exmouth, East Devon, Devon. A 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone have been declared.'
This is the eleventh case HPAI H5N8 in poultry in England. There have also been three recent cases of H5N8 in other captive birds and one case at a premises in Orkney, Scotland. Multiple species of wild birds have also tested positive for the disease in recent weeks.
All bird keepers in England are required by law to take a range of biosecurity precautions, including housing their birds, except in very specific circumstances. These housing measures build on the strengthened biosecurity regulations that were introduced as part of the Avian Influenza Protection Zone (AIPZ) on 11 November.
The Veterinary Defence Society (VDS) has written to its members reminding them to familiarise themselves with the official guidance and associated work requirements of the Group Export Facilitation Scheme (GEFS).
The GEFS is a Government scheme designed to support OVs in obtaining the information they need to certify EU Export Health Certificates for certain products following Britain's exit from the European Union.
As the Brexit transition period comes to an end (31 December), the VDS said that it is aware some of its members will be supporting the GEFS, either as Official Veterinarians (OVs) or as Vets certifying Support Attestations and/or supporting other import/export work for the first time in their veterinary careers.
The statement reads: 'We urge members to fully familiarise themselves with any relevant official guidance and the associated requirements of any work of this nature they are intending to perform.
'We would also like to remind members that for the purpose of their VDS Insurance, veterinary work involving export/ import certification of food, food products, pet food, animal feed, eggs, animal products, skins, hides and agricultural machinery is classed as being within Risk Group F (farm animals) of the VDS Policy.
'Cover under the VDS Policy for work undertaken in Risk Group F is dependent upon the names of the veterinary surgeons who are to undertake work in Risk Group F being declared to the VDS before work in Risk Group F is commenced. Veterinary surgeons who have declared that they will be undertaking work in Risk Group F will be named as doing so on the Schedule of Insurance.
It continued: 'It is very important that you carefully consider and review the Indemnity Limits you require, to ensure that they are sufficient for your needs and those of the Practice. These limits will be the maximum liability of the VDS for a claim or related claims connected with that Risk Group, and this limit includes damages and/or legal and other costs.'
For further information about the VDS Practice Policy, visit thevds.co.uk/our-policy
Avian flu could lead to more owners abandoning their pets, warns RSPCA.
Dozens of hens and cockerels have been abandoned in recent weeks, sparking fears that charities and rescue centres will soon be overrun with unwanted chickens.
Figures released by the RSPCA show that the charity has dealt with 1,594 incidents related to chickens across England and Wales so far this year, and has had abandonment incidents relating to 1,562 birds. The charity has also taken 280 chickens into its centres for rehoming.
Many people went out and purchased chickens at the start of the coronavirus lockdown, in part over concerns about egg shortages, but also because people were spending more time at home.
An RSPCA spokesperson said: “Concerns were raised during lockdown about the increase in pet acquisition and ownership, and we feared that people would soon lose interest and start to hand their animals over once life started to return to normal.
“In the spring, many hen producers reported huge surges in demand for chicks and we believe this may be because people panic bought birds due to shortages of eggs in the supermarkets but, due to the shops being better stocked, are now ‘surplus to requirement’. There are also concerns that some families may have taken on unsexed chicks, which have grown into noisy cockerels so are now being abandoned.”
In recent weeks, bird keepers have been required to keep their birds inside under new measures to tackle a highly pathogenic strain avian influenza (HPAI H5N8). But the RSPCA fears these new measures, which came into force on December 14, could fuel the surge in abandoned hens and put yet more pressure on rehoming centres.
Kate Parkes, poultry welfare specialist at the RSPCA, said: “It’s really important that owners follow Government biosecurity advice to help protect the health of their birds as well as to try and limit the spread of the virus.
"All pet poultry owners need to stay vigilant for signs of disease and ill-health in their flocks, and it’s vital they seek veterinary advice if they have any concerns for their birds. We’re concerned that worries about bird flu and changes to how we’re allowed to keep hens may lead to more owners abandoning their pets, putting more pressure on rescue centres.”
Disease found in non-poultry at captive bird premises.
Two further cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPA1 H5N8) have been confirmed in England.
On 28 December, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), confirmed the disease in rearing ducks at a premises in Norfolk.
All birds on the infected site near Watton, Breckland, have been humanely culled. 'A 3.4km Protection Zone and 10.4km Surveillance Zone has been declared around the premises', the APHA said.
On 26 December, H5N8 was confirmed at a captive bird, non-poultry, premises near Attleborough, Breckland, Norfolk.
'Further testing confirmed this to be the highly pathogenic strain,' the APHA said. 'All birds on the infected premises have been humanely culled and a 3km Protection Zone and 10km Temporary Control Surveillance Zone have been declared around the premises'.
A joint statement from the UK's three Chief Veterinary Officers read: “Whether you keep just a few birds or thousands, from 14 December onwards you will be legally required to keep your birds indoors or take appropriate steps to keep them separate from wild birds. We have not taken this decision lightly, but it is the best way to protect your birds from this highly infectious disease.”
For more information on avian influenza, including the latest guidance, visit GOV.UK
Innovative project sees animal health organisations collaborate with video game developers
Agricultural innovation group Agri-EPI Centre and VetPartners are collaborating with video games developers on a new project which aims to help dairy farmers and advance cow health.
The SmARtview research is working to develop an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based system that can recognise a cow by it's skin patterns, as well as a ‘HoloLens’ Augmented Reality (AR) headset that displays health and productivity data about an animal as a user views it.
This system will help make the process of examining a cow and then having to look up it's health records much more efficient and effective.
Agri-EPI’s South West Dairy Development Centre is being used to carry out the tests and the new system will also be trialled by veterinary professionals from VetPartners practices across the UK.
Head of dairy at Agri-Epi Duncan Forbes said: “The beauty of this project is that it combines farmers’ and vet’s experienced ‘eyes’ with real-time data: technology is being used to enhance, rather than replace, human skills.
“In addition, SmARtview could provide a solution to one of the key challenges of on-farm technology – while different devices like robotic milkers, sensors and collars can already collect plentiful data, its lack of integration limits insight to drive decision-making.”
Abertay University’s School of Design and Informatics will be leading the development of the AI, while games developer Pocket Sized Hands (PSH) work on developing the prototype AR headset.
Abertay professor Ruth Falconer said: “This project brings together our research areas of AI, user experience and games technology. We aim to develop ‘marker-less’ technology that can achieve the difficult task of recognising a cow by the patterning of its skin and shape in an environment where it is likely to be dirty, and the light and weather conditions change frequently.”
Clinical research organisation Eville & Jones has been appointed by the APHA to run field trials of the bovine tuberculosis (TB) cattle vaccine (CattleBCG) and companion DIVA (Detecting Infected amongst Vaccinated Animals) skin test.
In July, Bovine TB (bTB) cattle vaccination trials were given the go-ahead in England and Wales in a bid to develop a cattle vaccine by 2025. The vaccine trials follow 20 years of research by government scientists and will be conducted over the next four years on behalf of Defra and the Welsh and Scottish governments.
A statement from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) reads: 'Following an open competition, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has awarded a contract to Eville & Jones, to run veterinary field trials of CattleBCG vaccine and the companion DIVA (Detecting Infected amongst Vaccinated Animals) skin test.
'Eville & Jones have brought together an experienced team to deliver the project. APHA will now start to work with Eville & Jones and the project team to confirm timelines and identify suitable herds for the field trials scheduled to start next year.
'The field trials will be conducted on behalf of Defra, the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government, following more than 20 years of ground-breaking research into bovine TB vaccines and diagnostic tests.
'Further information about the next stages of the field trials will be communicated in due course.'
The vaccine trials are one of several measures to eradicate bTB in England by 2038. Other measures include plans to phase out intensive badger culling in England, improve the cattle testing regime and vaccinate more badgers against the disease.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Bovine TB is a slow-moving and insidious disease which can cause considerable trauma for farmers as they suffer the loss of highly prized animals and valued herds.
“This scientific breakthrough is a major step forwards in our battle to see the disease eradicated from this country. As wider preventative measures like cattle vaccines are introduced, we will accelerate other elements of our strategy and start to phase out badger culling in England, as no one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely.”
The APHA has confirmed three further cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza in England.
On Saturday (19 December) highly pathogenic (H5N1) avian influenza was identified in backyard chickens near Hawes, North Yorkshire.
Testing is underway to confirm whether this is also the same H5N1 strain that was previously found in wild birds. A 3km and 10km Temporary Control Zone and 10km Temporary Movement Restriction Zone have been declared around the premises.
Also on Saturday, a separate case of highly pathogenic (H5N8) avian influenza was confirmed in backyard poultry near Gillingham, Dorset. All birds on the premises will be humanely culled. A 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone has been declared.
Finally, on Sunday (20 December) the APHA confirmed HPAI H5N8 on a commercial duck breeding premises near Attleborough, Norfolk. All poultry on the premises will be humanely culled. The 3km and 10km Temporary Control Zone has been revoked and replaced by a 3km Protection Zone and a 10km Surveillance Zone.
For more information on avian influenza, including the latest guidance, visit gov.uk
Bird keepers urged to strengthen their biosecurity measures.
Highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N8) has been confirmed in a flock of birds on the island of Sanday in Orkney, Scotland.
A 10km temporary control zone has been placed around the infected premises to limit the risk of the disease spreading. This zone includes restrictions on the movement of poultry, carcasses, eggs, used poultry litter and manure and restrictions on bird gatherings.
The remaining birds at the premises have been humanely culled. Producers and bird keepers are being reminded to comply with the new housing measures which came into effect on 14 December and follow biosecurity procedures.
Scotland’s rural affairs minister, Mairi Gougeon, said: “We have declared a Prevention Zone as a precautionary measure to protect Scotland’s poultry industry. I urge all bird keepers to maintain and strengthen their farm biosecurity measures in order to help prevent an outbreak of avian influenza in Scotland.
“The Scottish Government and its partners continue to monitor the situation in England and Europe closely and stand ready to respond to any suspicion of disease in Scotland. Any bird keepers who have concerns should immediately seek veterinary advice.”
Scotland’s chief veterinary officer, Sheila Voas, said: “This case of H5N8 in a flock of birds on Sanday confirms that Avian Influenza is present in Scotland.
“We have already made clear that all bird keepers – whether major businesses or small keepers with just a few birds – must ensure that their biosecurity is up to scratch to protect their birds from disease and prevent any contact between their birds and wild birds.
“Keepers who are concerned about the health or welfare of their flock should seek veterinary advice immediately. Your private vet, or your local Animal and Plant Health Agency office, will also be able to provide practical advice on keeping your birds safe from infection.”
She continued: “Any dead wild swans, geese, ducks or gulls, falcons or other birds of prey or five or more dead wild birds of other species in the same location, should be reported to the Defra dead wild bird helpline.
“Public health advice is that the risk to human health from the virus is very low and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers, and it does not affect the consumption of poultry products including eggs.”
In November, the UK's chief veterinary officers declared an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) across Britain, under which keepers with 500 birds or more must restrict access for non-essential people on their sites, change their clothing and footwear before entering enclosures, and clean and disinfect site vehicles daily.
Weeks later, new measures came into force requiring all bird keepers in England, Scotland and Wales to keep their birds indoors and follow strict biosecurity measures to prevent transmission of the disease.The risk of incursion of avian influenza in the UK is currently 'very high' for wild birds, 'medium' for poultry with high biosecurity, and 'high' for poultry with poor biosecurity.
Eight cases of highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza have so far been confirmed in poultry in England. The most recent case was confirmed at a premises near Willington, South Derbyshire.
Researchers at Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) are seeking views from the profession on methods to ensure the quality of life in cattle.
It is hoped that the findings from the survey will inform the development of a new tool to assess the quality of life of calves with bovine respiratory disease (BRD).
Researchers said the tool will be similar to other health-related quality-of-life tools (HRQoL), used for other species to capture how the disease 'feels' to the animal. This would be a major advancement in detecting disease and would ultimately lead to better treatments, care and outcomes for calves, they added.
SRUC researcher David Bell said: “At this time of year, respiratory disease can be an issue on farms. While there are a number of clinical methods to assess respiratory disease, to be able to fully understand the impact of disease on the animal, a method for measuring quality of life is needed.
“We are conducting a short survey to gauge how useful and valid specific indicators are in the assessment of quality of life. Participating in this and giving your opinion will help us establish what is useful for assessing the overall well-being of calves with respiratory disease.”
Beef and dairy farmers, calf rearing units, consultants and vets are all invited to take part in the survey. Responses close on 25 January.