Dairy farmers cautioned against antibiotics

Antibiotic residues in milk are threatening its quality and that of other dairy products as well as income of farmers who have spent resources on its production, actors in the dairy sector have said.

The issue was exposed during the first Annual Veterinary Scientific Conference in Rwanda which concluded on Thursday, last week.

Antibiotics are medicines that are used to fight infections caused by bacteria. Experts in livestock sector argue that antibiotic residues in milk can cause antibiotic resistance – a condition that happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them.

That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, a leading national public health institute of the United States of America.

Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs are difficult, and sometimes impossible to treat using the same medication, implying that they require costly and toxic treatment alternatives.

Michel Ngarambe, a specialist at Rwanda Dairy Development Project (RDDP) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal resource said that the issue of antibiotic residues in milk mostly concerns Rwanda Council of veterinary Doctors (RCVD) because it stems from farmers who administer antibiotics to their cows over the counter.

“Why do dairy farmers apply antibiotics on their own yet they are not allowed to?” he wondered pointing out that it is a responsibility for the veterinary council to tackle such a problem.

Antibiotics have withholding period (WHP) – the minimum period of time that needs to pass between the last use of antibiotics and the collection of milk or slaughter of a livestock animal with an aim to avoid exceeding the maximum residue limit. 

Ngarambe said that testing antibiotics in milk is expensive because 96 samples cost around Rwf300,000.

As a sustainable and affordable means to respond to this challenge, Ngarambe said that there is a need for sensitisation to make sure that farmers understand that they should not administer antibiotics, rather, this service should be provided by veterinarians.

“They [farmers] should also know that they should not supply milk [produced by a cow which received antibiotics] within the recommended days,” he said.

Speaking to The New Times, Pierre-Célestin Hakizimana, President of IAKIB – a dairy farmers’ cooperative based in Gicumbi District – said that antibiotic remains in milk should be discarded because it is not safe for consumption.   The cooperative collects 38,000 litres of milk a day.

He indicated that in a period of three months – between April and June this year – an estimated 83,000 litres of milk were rejected after it was found, through testing, that the milk had antibiotics in it.

However, he also expressed concern that testing is expensive.

“This problem is caused by farmers who do not respect the advice of veterinarians. For instance, some are told to wait for five days after treatment, but, they immediately bring it to milk collection centres,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said that the government has supported the farmers to overcome this challenge through veterinary services, and university graduates from Rwanda Youth in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF).

Dr. Alphonse Nshimiyimana, Executive Secretary of Rwanda Council of Veterinary Doctors (RCVD) told The New Times that in line with solving the problem, this December, and January next year, the council is going to focus on deploying veterinarians in different parts of the country so that farmers do not give medication to their cows by themselves.

“We want to ensure that a farmer who needs a given treatment veterinary service will get the support from an authorised veterinarian who uses prescribed medication to effectively deal with diseases, and prevent antibiotic residues in milk,” he said.

“The emphasis will be on educating farmers that if a livestock animal was getting given antibiotics, they should observe the prescribed days that have to elapse before milk is supplied for consumption, or for the cow in question to be taken to market for slaughter and meat consumption,” he said.

entirenganya@newtimesrwanda.com

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