Livestock producers: use antibiotics appropriately

Livestock producers must use antibiotics judiciously and under the direction of a licensed veterinarian.

Different parts of the scientific and medical communities have been at odds with each other for some time over the use of antibiotics in livestock production and linking that to antibiotic resistance in humans. Even though scientific evidence currently supports continued use of antibiotics in livestock, it is important for producers to make sure they are using these products responsibly and judiciously.

Antibiotics, also called antimicrobials, are used to treat disease in livestock. Zoonotic pathogens are those bacteria that are able to transport between animals and humans. The zoonotic pathogens of major concern included Salmonella and Campylobacter jejuni. These bacteria are major causes of foodborne illness in the United States each year.

In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) to monitor antimicrobial drug resistance in humans, animals and retail meat. The collaborative efforts of the FDA, CDC, and USDA work through NARMS to conduct susceptibility testing on several strains of bacteria with different antimicrobials. Trend analysis of the data is used by NARMS to monitor patterns of emerging resistance, and ultimately guide policy for the use of antibiotics in livestock. In addition, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regularly tests meat for antibiotic residue. No antibiotic residue is allowed in meat.

Several industry groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Board, Poultry Science Association, and more support judicious use of antimicrobials and have recommendations in place to ensure the proper use of these drugs. Some of these judicious use principles include:

  • Use of antibiotics should be under the direction of a licensed veterinarian
  • Only using antibiotics according to the label; they should be used to prevent or control disease
  • A veterinarian-client-patient relationship is required for extra-label use of antimicrobials
  • Preventative strategies including proper care and management of animals, regular health monitoring, and use of vaccinations to prevent disease are important
  • Avoid using antibiotics that are important in human medicine
  • Treat the fewest number of animals possible
  • Use as narrow of a spectrum of antimicrobials as possible
  • Strictly adhering to withdrawal times
  • Keep records of use of antimicrobials
  • Properly handle and dispose of all animal health products, including antibiotics to protect the environment

Antibiotic use in livestock and its relationship to food safety will continue to be monitored by NARMS. Let’s use this as an opportunity to remind producers to use antibiotics responsibly and judiciously.

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