The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act currently being reviewed by Congress would seek to limit or eliminate the use of antibiotics in livestock. Many consumers, as well as lawmakers, are not aware of how antibiotics are used in livestock.
"Antibiotics are used in two basic ways," says Paul Ebner, Purdue University animal scientist. "One use is to treat a specific disease. But they also are used preventatively. This is to prevent disease in general."
"Often, people think all of the livestock feed is laced with antibiotics, and that is just not true," Ebner says. "Every commodity group has guidelines, and the American Veterinary Medical Association has guidelines. The best thing for the producers to do is to work with their veterinarians so they can use these products in the healthiest, most efficient ways possible."
For both consumer and animal safety, not all antibiotics can be used with every species, and producers can't just use them whenever they want.
"Most antibiotics have required withdrawal times, or a specific amount of time the animal must not consume the medication before processing," he says. "This ensures that residues don’t remain in the meat."
The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service regularly tests for antibiotic residues. If they test something that comes back higher than U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations allow, Ebner explains that the product would be discarded.
Much of the controversy with livestock antibiotic use comes from the idea of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or so-called superbugs, that affect humans. However, Ebner says antibiotic resistance in humans is much more closely related to human antibiotic use than on-farm use.
"When we look at antibiotic-use patterns in humans and human antibiotic resistance patterns, they mirror each other," he notes.
While that may be the case, it is still important for livestock producers to be prudent with antibiotics and to be transparent with the public about their efforts to responsibly use antibiotics.
"Producers should just work with their veterinarians to make sure they are using the antibiotics properly," Ebner says. "They also should be open and share with others when asked about antibiotic use. It's important that the public understand that farmers do take this seriously and that they're doing the best they can to use antibiotics in the most responsible way possible."
Source: Purdue University