Can resistant infections be perceptible in UK dairy farming?




Helliwell, Richard
Morris, Carol
Raman, Sujatha

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Palgrave Macmillan UK


This paper interrogates the claim that antimicrobial-resistant infections are rarely encountered in animal agriculture. This has been widely reiterated by a range of academic, policy and industry stakeholders in the UK. Further support comes from the UK's Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (APHA) passive clinical surveillance regime, which relies on veterinarians to submit samples for analysis and similarly reports low levels of resistance amongst key animal pathogens. Building on social science work on knowledge-practices of animal health and disease, and insights from emerging literature on non-knowledge or ‘agnotology’, we investigate the conditions shaping what is known about antimicrobialresistant infections on farms. In so doing, we find that how on-farm knowledge is produced about resistant infection is concurrently related to domains of imperceptibility or what cannot be known in the context of current practices. The paper discusses the findings of ethnographic research undertaken on an East Midlands dairy farm that highlight the following specific findings. First, farmers and veterinarians, when observing instances of treatment failure, draw on an experiential repertoire that effaces resistances and instead foregrounds the complexities of host-pathogen interaction, or failings in human behaviour, over pathogenantibiotic interactions. Second, the knowledge-practices of both farmers and veterinarians, although adept at identifying and diagnosing infectious disease are not equipped to make resistance perceptible. Third, this imperceptibility has implications for antibiotic use practices. Most notably, veterinarians anticipate resistance when making antibiotic choices. However, because of the absence of farm level knowledge of resistance this anticipatory logic is informed through the prevalence of resistance ‘at large’. The analysis has implications for the existing passive resistance surveillance regime operating in the dairy sector, which relies on veterinarians and farmers voluntarily submitting samples for diagnostic and susceptibility testing. In effect this entrenches farm level imperceptibility and effacement by farmers and veterinarians within the national dairy surveillance regime. However, we also highlight opportunities for providing farm specific knowledge of resistance through the anticipatory logic of veterinarians and a more active regime of surveillance.





Palgrave Communications


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