New restrictions for antimicrobial use in animal agriculture

On December 11, 2013, the FDA issued a guidance that will impact the labeling of drugs for use in animal agriculture. Where does that leave producers and their veterinarians?

Concerns about antimicrobial resistant pathogens impacting humans have resulted in new “guidance” for antimicrobial use in animal agriculture. Over the past several years, there has been increasing concern worldwide that bacteria (or other microbes) that cause disease in people may become resistant to available antimicrobials because of overuse both in humans and animals.

Resistance by bacterial populations is a natural phenomenon. Concerns about diseases that are untreatable with common antimicrobials, and therefore result in higher costs and increased mortality, have led to many pointing a finger at antimicrobial use in agriculture even though no link has been found between that use and resistant zoonotic bacteria (bacteria that can infect both humans and animals).

On Dec. 11, 2013, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Guidance Document 213. In essence, the guidance document asks that pharmaceutical companies remove the label indications for non-therapeutic use of medically important antimicrobials that are administered in feed or water. There will be a three year phase in of these new guidelines.

Though it is not a law or a regulation, this issuance bears the weight of a legal requirement for producers and for veterinarians. They are asking for the drug companies to agree to comply and to indicate whether they will do so by March 2014. Already, two major companies, Zoetis and Eli Lilly & Co. have indicated that they will comply.

For animal agriculture, it means that targeted therapeutic use of antimicrobials for treatment, control and prevention of diseases is maintained while eliminating non-therapeutic antimicrobial use. The intent is to restrict the use of antimicrobials so that the threat of antimicrobial resistance is reduced. William Flynn, DVM, FDA deputy director for science policy said, “antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”

The new restrictions will hit certain segments of agriculture harder than others. Many poultry, pork and cattle producers have commonly fed low levels of antimicrobials to improve health and performance. So it will mean that producers and their veterinarians will need to adjust.

Michigan State University Extension specialists and field staff recommend that all producers take the following action steps:

  1. All drug use on farms should be recorded and evaluated regularly with your veterinarian. Antimicrobials should only be used when there is a good potential for effective therapy.
  2. Unless directed to do so by a veterinarian, label directions of all pharmaceutical products must be followed. This includes the intended animal, intended disease indication, dosage, route of administration, duration of use and withdrawal periods. You are legally responsible to assure the safety of meat and milk by following the label.
  3. Producers should work closely with their veterinarian to have a plan for herd or flock health that includes strategies for prevention, monitoring and treatment of disease. Health is critical for production efficiency and financial success. Having your veterinarian regularly walk through the farm with you to evaluate practices and conditions that may impact health and working together to develop better systems for health is a step for the future of your operation.

For more information on developing drug protocols with your veterinarian, see the MSU Extension News story “Work with your veterinarian on drug protocols”.

Antimicrobial resistance should be a concern to all producers as well as consumers. The social contract that producers have with consumers is that the production of food products will result in better health, rather than threaten health.

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