Christian Hofer, how would you sum up your first two years in office?
It was certainly a unique start to the job. Just a few months after my appointment, we all had to start working from home. Unfortunately, this dashed any hopes of spontaneous exchanges with my staff in the office. But we have all proved just how flexible we are in coping with new situations. That deserves respect and recognition. Important agricultural issues have been on the agenda in recent months. The Agricultural Policy 22+ and the two agricultural initiatives in June were a key part of our daily routine. I really appreciate the wide variety of tasks, the responsibility and the freedom to operate. Being able to monitor and guide the development of agricultural policies is a great privilege for me. Society and its values in terms of sustainable nutrition are changing. Protecting our natural resources is becoming increasingly important. These processes bring new challenges that spur me on.
How important is the StAR strategy for you and for the Office? How do you relate to it?
Antibiotic resistance affects us all. As resistance increases, we are losing highly effective medicines designed to protect human and animal health. The FOAG is committed to ensuring that agriculture makes its contribution against antibiotic resistance and that farmers are able to continually reduce their use of antibiotics as far as possible. Projects that improve animal health and lessen the use of antibiotics are being promoted and financially supported. Milk producers, veal and cattle farmers – not forgetting pig farmers – are taking part in such projects. One specific example: The resource project "Healthy hooves – a firm foundation for the future" is designed to improve hoof health and reduce the use of antibiotics in cattle. The farmers are taking a very active part in these projects because it is also in their own interests to keep their animals as healthy and robust as possible with the least possible use of antibiotics. Animal health is crucially important for sustainable animal production. Antibiotic use in agricultural animal husbandry has declined by 50 % in the last 10 years. That is a substantial drop and reflects very well on the efforts of veterinarians and farmers.
How has COVID-19 affected your work?
I missed the direct and spontaneous exchanges with my staff during those times when we were all working from home. I believe that personal encounters are important – not just for interpersonal relationships, but also for professional working. Building up a professional network is important, particularly at the start of a new job. The new situation has also shown me how important and useful it is to exploit the benefits of digitisation. I can see considerable potential here, and we should continue to make the most of these opportunities.
To what extent might COVID-19 represent an opportunity in the fight against antibiotic resistance?
COVID-19 has probably changed us all in many ways. One thing is certain: the pandemic has clearly heightened the public's awareness of the problem of communicable diseases. Safety measures for limiting transmission, such as hand hygiene, shaking hands, social distancing, etc., have permanently changed our behaviour. No doubt this will also help ensure that corresponding recommendations for measures designed to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance are implemented more conscientiously by the public in future.