Contextualized understandings of dairy farmers' perspectives on antimicrobial use and regulation in Alberta, Canada

Ida JA, Wilson WM, Nydam DV, et al

Published online 21 Nov 2022

Access via Journal of Dairy Science



Publication Summary

In this study, the authors conducted ethnographic fieldwork to investigate one community's understanding of antimicrobial use (AMU), antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and associated regulations in the dairy industry in Alberta, Canada. Ethnographic fieldwork involves prolonged, immersive interactions with the people of interest to generate an understanding of variables affecting behavior. The authors note that AMU decision-making in animal agriculture is impacted by multiple factors and that abundant evidence from experts regarding AMU may have limited effect on behavior if local perspectives are ignored. Yet there remains insufficient literature that provides an in-depth understanding of the context in which AMU decisions are made or that looks beyond the behavior of individual dairy farmers. The purpose of this study was to use anthropological methods to gain a contextualized understanding of Albertan dairy farmers’ perceptions of AMU and prospective AMU regulation to begin to address knowledge gaps and inform public policy.

Who this is for

  • Individuals, organizations, and agencies working to improve antimicrobial stewardship in animal agriculture

Key findings

  • Anthropological immersion by the study’s first author (into the lives of people interacting with, caring for, and medically treating dairy cows in Alberta) provided insights on the context that shapes on-farm AMU. This immersion required the researcher to participate in daily chores, activities, and social events. Three categories of ethnographic research were used: participant observation, direct observation, and open-ended interviews.
  • Key topics during interviews included: concerns and perceptions regarding reductions in AMU and increased regulation of antimicrobials, perceptions of AMR, and perceived risks of adopting new protocols. Areas for increased antimicrobial stewardship and potential pathways for collaboration with veterinarians and hoof trimmers were discussed. Information about belief systems and lived experiences was gathered.
  • Thematic analysis of the data gathered revealed the following five themes, which are discussed in detail within the full article: values; lack of trust and misguided information; dairy farmers’ perspectives on AMR; dairy farmers’ perspectives on antimicrobial regulation; and dairy farmers’ perspectives on current AMU and stewardship.
  • Study participants highly value their autonomy with the desire for autonomy stemming from their collective lived experience as dairy farmers who emigrated (or who are direct descendants of those who emigrated) from the Netherlands and Switzerland. Even though not all participants emigrated from Europe, the cultural diffusion of this value was pervasive in the community and, the authors argue, underpins the community’s concern about specific AMU regulations that would restrict their autonomy in the same manner that some restrictive farming regulations have in Europe.
  • Specifically, the authors state that regulations and policies that (1) place restrictions on antimicrobials with zero-day milk withdrawal, while offering no suitable alternatives, or that (2) require prescription per animal or (3) a veterinarian to administer each dose, would not be well-suited for this community and would ultimately serve to hinder research and policy initiatives aimed at improving antimicrobial stewardship.
  • The authors observed variable skepticism in this farming community about the link between AMU in dairy cattle and AMR in humans. The lack of clear information provided to dairy farmers can undermine best efforts to improve antimicrobial stewardship. Recognizing that the scientific link is complex, the authors suggest a key point for future intervention is further explanation, to the extent that it is known, of the mechanism(s) by which AMU in dairy farming poses a risk for the development of AMR in humans.
  • Further clarification of this link may also work to lessen farmers’ concerns that prospective AMU regulations will be driven by uninformed or misguided consumers rather than scientifically supported evidence. These concerns likely stem from a perceived ongoing mutual distrust between the farmer and the public.
  • Similar to other research, the authors conclude that a better understanding of the sociocultural and political-economic infrastructure that supports such perceptions as elucidated in this study is warranted and should inform efforts to improve AMU stewardship and future policies regarding AMU.

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