There is no shortage of opinions regarding antibiotic use in food-animal production. However, scientific facts are harder to come by. To bridge that gap, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) released a White Paper, which is a summary of science-based information delivered by the 13 human health and animal health speakers and symposium participants at the "Antibiotic Use in Food Animals: A Dialogue for Common Purpose" symposium held this fall.
"Critics and proponents of the use of antibiotics in livestock have conflicting views on the correct interpretation of the body of evidence related to agricultural use of antibiotics and the development of resistant organisms," says Dr. Len Bull, symposium chairman. "This White Paper, written in laymen terms, will help individuals understand what the science shows to date and why each of us have a responsibility toward achieving the unified goal of 'One Health: Healthy People, Healthy Animals, Healthy Food'."
The White Paper provides science-based information regarding the use of antibiotics in food-animal production and human health implications relative to antibiotic use, as well as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in livestock. It addresses the controversial topic of antimicrobial resistance.
In fact, just last week Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) sent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a letter criticizing the agency for not acting more aggressively regarding antibiotic use in food-animal production.
While both the public and policymakers continue to be concerned about antibiotic use on farms, there also continues to be tremendous confusion. The White Paper cites some reasons why:
* Antibiotic use in food animals is not a black‐and‐white; it is a complex issue that is all too frequently over simplified by both critics and proponents.
* Misunderstanding that a concern is not equivalent to risk. “Risk is not a result of the hazard alone, but also in conjunction with the exposure (or dose),” the White Paper outlines. “Estimated farm‐to‐fork risk from on‐farm antibiotic use is extremely low. In fact, the alternative risk of sub‐optimal animal health may be higher than the risk of on‐farm antibiotic use.”
* The disconnect between consumers and agriculture (and those in agriculture), with most consumers being at least three generations removed from the farm.
* Activist messaging, the media and the Internet are often inaccurate and misleading regarding antibiotic use-- and in particular antibiotic resistance-- and its relationship to use in food‐animal production.
The reality is that bacteria continuously evolve and resistance to antimicrobials is part of the survival outcome. Consequently, it’s imperative that antibiotics be used appropriately not only in animal agriculture but also in the human population.
The White Paper outlines “common on‐farm practices that consumers should know about regarding food‐animal production, including”:
1) Modern livestock farms increasingly involve licensed veterinarians who advise on health management decisions.
2) Vaccines are used to protect animals from various illnesses.
3) Sick animals are treated with medicines, such as antibiotics, to restore their health, and protections are in place to ensure that their meat or milk is safe for people.
4) FDA approves the use of all new animal drugs after testing and confirming animal safety and human food safety.
5) If antibiotics are administered to cure a sick animal, the animal itself — in the case of meat production — or animal products — such as milk — are not allowed to enter the food supply until the withdrawal period has passed and the medicine has sufficiently cleared the animal’s system. The required periods for withdrawing medication are specific for each drug and species and are approved by the FDA based on research studies of residues in edible tissues.
Going forward, the consensus is that priorities should be on developing well‐established, science‐based criterion in the regulatory decision‐making process. Meanwhile, the livestock and poultry industries should remain focused on disease prevention and continual improvement of animal husbandry practices.