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Improving Animal Health and Welfare

Improving farmer engagement with animal health services, reducing the use of antibiotics in agriculture, and improving biosecurity practices on the farm are just some of the challenges addressed by a new research project led by Teagasc.

A new Research project is underway addressing major current and emerging animal health and welfare challenges in the Irish agricultural industry.

Improving farmer engagement with animal health services, reducing the use of antibiotics in agriculture, and improving biosecurity practices on the farm are just some of the challenges addressed by a new research project led by Teagasc. The new research project called ‘SWAB’ (Surveillance, Welfare and Biosecurity of Farmed Animals), brings together scientists, industry, farmers and veterinarians to develop novel solutions to tackle some of the key issues facing Irish agriculture in the area of animal health and welfare. 

The strength of the research project lies in its interdisciplinary nature, as described by SWAB Principal Investigator, Dr Áine Macken-Walsh: “This project will harness interdisciplinary expertise to investigate stakeholder perceptions, concerns, and values regarding animal welfare and health. The project uses a carefully selected range of expertise from the disciplines of sociology, psychology, economics, veterinary medicine, animal welfare and epidemiology. Involvement of representatives from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Animal Health Ireland, the farming community and industry will ensure that outputs are appropriately balanced between scientific enquiry and real-life application as “practice-ready” tools.” 

One issue that the project will address is that of animal health surveillance. Dr Conor McAloon, the Project Co-ordinator of SWAB identified this as a key issue: “Excellent surveillance is fundamental to ensuring the safety and quality of Irish food produce. This research will form an evidence base for policy decisions informing how the surveillance system operates and evolves into the future. The application of ‘smart’ surveillance, harnessing data processing, represents a step forward in technological advancement for Ireland.”

The SWAB project will also focus on the use of antibiotics in Irish agriculture. Identified as a major 21st century global health challenge, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses a major public health threat. Widespread consumption of antimicrobial drugs including antibiotics has contributed to the rapid increase in AMR. This work will be supported by a second research project funded by the all-island body safefood. This project will focus specifically on developing strategies to reduce antimicrobial usage on farms and will extend the reach of the work into Northern Ireland. Principal Investigator of the Safefood Antimicrobial Usage (AMU) project, Dr Áine Regan reflected on the project: “The safefood AMU project will work with farmers and veterinarians to create practical and acceptable solutions which can be used to reduce antimicrobial usage and encourage the uptake of alternative strategies for animal health management.”