7 November 1997

Dont overlook welfare among mastitis options

By Jonathan Riley

PRESSURE to consider alternative options for mastitis treatment should not be heeded at the expense of cow welfare and milk quality.

Institute of animal health principal research scientist Eric Hillerton told a meeting on controlling antibiotics in milk at Leatherhead Food Research Association that retailers and the EU were reviewing alternative treatment protocols for mastitis.

He said that Swedish treatment protocols – being considered by the EU – aimed to reduce the likelihood of antibiotics entering milk and to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance.

But the Swedish protocol goes away from prophylactic treatment and focuses on isolating the particular bug causing mastitis before treatment is administered.

"It includes a clause that vets must make the diagnosis before any treatment is made. This means a call-out fee for every mastitis case and a delay to treatment."

The Swedes claim that antibiotic use in the EU is excessive, but Dr Hillerton speculated that if the Swedish protocol were adopted by the EU, the delay to treatment could leave the cow in pain and distress for longer and could increase cell counts in milk.

"Milk with higher cell counts attracts penalties from buyers because high counts interfere with the cheese making process and reduce the shelf life of pasteurised milk," said Dr Hillerton.

"Using antibiotics prophylactically – particularly as part of dry cow therapy – has helped to reduce mastitis cases since 1972 from 150/100 cows a year to under 40 cases/100. This in turn has helped reduce cell counts from an average of 600,000 to just over 200,000 in 20 years."

He suggested that the UK should look to methods of detecting mastitis as early as possible and adopt practices to counter resistance, such as longer treatment times for mastitis.n

Eric Hillerton: Look at methods to detect mastitis as early as possible.