Attacks on the use of antibiotics in food animals have become a common occurrence. Although no scientific link has been made between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans, many believe the practice should be suspended.

Legislation that would significantly reduce the use of antibiotics in food animals has been introduced to Congress. The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act currently being considered would likely restrict or eliminate the use of antibiotics for growth promotion as well as the prevention of disease.

”We do not believe that the legislation is supported by science and lacks risk based assessment,” says Ron De Haven, DVM, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. However, he adds that “changes are afoot.” The comments were made last week at the National Pork Industry Forum in Kansas City.

De Haven believes legislation acts as a “shotgun approach” and may deprive veterinarians and livestock producers of an important management and animal welfare tool.

 “We have a public that is interested and concerned but also largely uninformed on the issues involved in the use of antibiotics in production agriculture,” says De Haven. He also points to the considerable difference between how antibiotics are used in human medicine versus how they are used in food animals. “There is much more flexibility given to the use of antibiotics in human medicine than exists for the use in animal agriculture,” he says.

“There is very little evidence that suggests that restricting or eliminating use of antimicrobials in food animals would improve human health by reducing the incidence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in humans,” says De Haven.

In addition to an economic benefit, the responsible use of antimicrobials in food animals improves the overall health of the animal and reduces the degree of animal suffering. “Obviously, healthy animals provide a safer food supply,” De Haven adds.

More study on the use of antimicrobials in animal agriculture is needed, specifically in the area of risk assessment. “We would be strong proponents of more research so we can make better informed decisions,” says De Haven. “We would continue the judicious use of antibiotics unless there is scientific evidence that suggests doing so creates undue risk.”

AVMA supports greater veterinary involvement consistent and proportionate with the risks associated with the use of antimicrobials as well as which antimicrobial is being used and for what purpose.
While more science and research are needed on the risk of antibiotic resistance, the pork industry needs to be ready for changes in its use of antibiotics.

“To the extent pork producers are using antibiotics judiciously and consistent with the law as it exists today we encourage you to do so,” says De Haven. However, he is quick to add that change is in the making. “We also need to be ready to make reasoned, science-based changes in the future.”