Antibiotic stewardship and animal care

The concept of antibiotic stewardship has recently gained prominence in UK and EU policy and practice as part of wider efforts to reduce antibiotic use in agriculture and respond to concerns about antimicrobial resistance.

The purpose of the paper is to provide initial insights into what antibiotic stewardship might mean in practice for agricultural animal-human relationships, particularly within intensive systems.

We do this by firstly outlining the anticipated implications for agricultural animals by different stakeholders. Secondly, we develop the concept of heterogeneous biosocial collectivities through engagement with the literatures on care and thirdly we apply this concept to one case study (intensive dairy) farm to explore empirically how animal-human relationships are changing in response to antibiotic stewardship.

Three on-farm heterogeneous biosocial collectivities are identified, each of which coheres around a particular problem of life associated with distinctive practices of care and antibiotic use resulting in collectivity-specific responses to antibiotic stewardship.

These collectivities are: the calf collectivity and the problem of immunodeficient life; the milking cow collectivity and the problem of ‘stoic’ life; the dry cow collectivity and the problem of fatigued life. In conclusion we point to: the uneven effects for animal-human relationships of changes in antibiotic use including in particular practices of care and their consequences; an intensification of human control over animals with variable implications for their health and welfare.

The analysis raises questions for future research, in particular the need to test the assumption that reducing antibiotic use will stimulate systemic change in intensive animal agriculture towards sustainable, high-welfare, and more extensive systems of production.

Read the full article in the Journal of Rural Studies.