by Ahmed Abbas Mohamed, Director of Research, WET Group, UK


The challenge for the UK and world health professionals to reduce antibiotic usage is no longer one simply confined to the health sector. With the amount of antibiotics in the food chain, livestock and beverage sector the responsibility to help reduce the UK's usage level by 15 percent by 2024 rests on all of our shoulders.

That's why, when we developed the WET Group water cleansing technology, a key aim was to remove the need for antibiotics. The outcome could be a major step towards reducing our antibiotic use and fighting antibiotic-resistant infection.

When we started our collaboration with Bridgwater & Taunton Agricultural College we knew that we could make a large difference to the outcomes for feeding livestock. But it was important to confirm how much.

The size and health of the livestock tested was significant and important but, in the grander scheme of things, the long-term implications for removing the need for antibiotics could be much greater.

We believe this technology will be in line with the government's five-year action plan, designed to reduce the UK's usage level by 15 percent by 2024. We cannot afford to become complacent. Fresh technologies, discipline and alternatives to antibiotics will be needed to reach the target.

Many experts believe overuse of antibiotics in livestock production is fueling the problem of antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has previously described the problem as approaching 'crisis point', saying that the world is moving to a situation where many infections might soon be untreatable.

Recent statistics from the EU estimate that more than 33,000 people die in Europe each year from an antibiotic-resistant infection, including upwards of 2,000 in the UK.

The antibiotic problem at its source

The amount of antibiotics in the food chain emanates from the agricultural industry's need to counteract the effects of pathogens such as Clostridium Perfringens found in water sources like bore holes traditionally given to livestock.

Where the pathogen is present, the prescription of antibiotics helps to offset the harm caused in animals, including death, by resulting bacterial growth. Indeed, such is the level of antibiotic use in this manner that the One Health Report 2019 states that farm animals now account for 26 percent of all UK antibiotic use.

If the amount of antibiotics given to livestock is reduced, then the amount in the human food chain will see a significant reduction. This could make a major contribution towards efforts to combat the growing threat of antibiotic resistance in the general population.

However, with water containing dangerous pathogens such as Clostridium Perfringens being consumed by livestock, farmers are not currently willing to take the risk of going antibiotics free.

Providing a solution

Much work is going into developing solutions to this problem, supporting farmers and the agricultural industry in improving the health and well-being of livestock and lessening the costly need for animal antibiotic prescriptions.

The results of a recent research trial conducted at the Agriculture Innovation Centre at Bridgwater & Taunton College, which looked at the potential impact of a creative water technology innovation which protects and enhances, has shown great promise.

Providing water for livestock that is clean and free from residual chlorine, dangerous pathogens and bacterial infections, by putting the source water through this technology without the use of chemicals could well be an effective pathway to better animal health outcomes.

This could help improve commercial success for farmers and remove the need for antibiotics to be used in the process or protecting livestock from serious ill health and disease. WET Group's guided enhanced membrane (GEM 1) has been designed to achieve this.

The Bridgwater & Taunton Agricultural College GEM trial

Like many farms, Bridgwater & Taunton Agricultural College uses water for animals sourced from a mixture of mains and bore-holes. This is primarily to help reduce the costs associated with using sole mains water for farming as often farms can be under financial constraints.

While the desire to utilise bore-hole water is understandable, our tests found that such water was found to contain high levels of bacteria and microbes, specifically the pathogen Clostridium Perfringens which multiplies when mixed with mains water – important factors that are proven to be detrimental to animal health.

Occurrences of scours, runny noses, coughing and effects typical of Cryptosporidium parvum can adversely affect calf development in terms of weight gain and general good health and often lead to the regular prescribing of antibiotics to support the herd.

Through use of WET Group's GEM 1 the particulates, microbes, residual chlorine, pesticides and organic residues found in the bore hole water were removed and a protected and enhanced water source for the animals, which was then mixed with nutritional feed, was produced. A test group of calves were given feed made with the WET Group water and a control group was given feed mixed with normal bore hole water.

The difference was notable on both the health and performance of calves, including calves weaning weight, average daily weight gain and health indicators findings as assessed by the Madison-Wisconsin Calf Health Scoring system. As a result, the system's patented process of protecting and enhancing source water and nutrition enhancement, is now being viewed as an effective way of supplying water that has been properly protected and enhanced when mixed with feed to improve the lives and quality of livestock.

Importantly, the GEM system also has the potential to be beneficial to the health of those that ultimately consume livestock, as pathogens are eradicated from water sources and overall animal antibiotic use minimised.

Developments for the future

On the back of the promise seen in the initial GEM 1 trial, WET Group and Bridgewater & Taunton's Agricultural Innovation College are embarking on further collaborative research that could ultimately revolutionise the industry. An upgraded GEM 2 system is set to support a final phase of trials to provide a complete validation of the system.

It is clear that by tackling the problem of animal infections at its water borne source, animal health and the subsequent need for antibiotic solutions can be both optimised and reduced.

These tests of the WET Group GEM system will be further confirmed when the next stage of trials is complete. The knock-on effect of these trials is not just commercial gain for farmers, but also that of taking one step closer to the UK's goal of reducing antibiotic use by 15 percent by 2024 and the health professional's goal of removing the threat of antibiotic-resistant infection from the globe as soon as possible.

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