Completed projects: Providing the right incentives

In the future, animal production should make do with fewer antibiotics. Financial incentives could be of major importance in achieving this goal. A project by Agroscope Reckenholz-Tanikon Research Station is highlighting the expected opportunities and limitations.

​​The use of antibiotics in Swiss animal production has declined in recent years. As other European countries show, however, it can still be reduced further, as is reflected in one of the aims of the Swiss government's antibiotics strategy StAR. New measures introduced in pursuit of this aim will need to find the broadest possible acceptance among animal producers. Tailor-made financial incentives that encourage producers to reduce antibiotic use while simultaneously avoiding potential negative impacts on animal welfare could be important here.

Stefan Mann and his team from Agroscope Reckenholz-Tanikon Research Station have therefore investigated the kind of measures that can be usefully combined with financial incentives. The researchers first carried out a written survey of 2,000 farmers to determine the circumstances under which they use antibiotics and how. One of their key areas of interest involved the specific processes that farmers and vets go through when deciding whether or not to administer antibiotics. The survey included poultry, cattle and pig producers.

In the next step, Mann and his team conducted a series of workshops and one-to-one interviews with farmers, vets, representatives of Federal Offices and industry organisations. Together they developed a raft of measures to reduce antibiotic use that also take account of the realities of animal production. These included a bonus for producers whose antibiotic use is particularly low or support for producers who consistently work with a herd vet.

The researchers defined several levels of financial support for each of the suggested measures. With the aid of a further major survey of farmers, they were then able to determine the extent to which the various measures would be used in connection with each incentive. Acceptance levels varied from 20 to 60%, depending on the programme. It was greatest for a bonus for farms that used few antibiotics. With all measures, however, the amount of the incentive was crucial. For example, 23% of respondents would be willing to work with a herd vet if 20% of the cost was paid for them; this figure rose to over 40% if 80% of the cost was paid.

However, it also emerged that around a quarter of all farmers reject such programmes entirely, fearing additional administrative work and loss of entrepreneurial self-determination and autonomy.

In a last step, Stefan Mann and his team derived recommendations from their results and submitted them to the Federal Offices responsible for implementing StAR. Having an accurate knowledge of the potential and limitations of financial incentives is a helpful decision-making basis for these agencies. It is intended to help further reduce antibiotic use in animal production in partnership with farmers.

September 2021​