Responsible Use of Antibiotics in Food Animals

A National Institute for Animal Agriculture Publication. Activists continue to apply increased pressure on antibiotic use in food-producing animals, and activists’ messages are being more than heard.
calendar icon 20 August 2007
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They are being seen. Billboards posted by Chipotle Grill state “Get antibiotics from your doctor, not your beef.” Similar Chipotle Grill billboards have been aimed at the poultry industry.

Numerous food service companies have zeroed in on the public’s concern with antibiotic use in food animals and have developed their own antibiotic guidelines. Wendy’s, for example, has developed its own antibiotic use policies. Under “Managed Use,” Wendy’s policy states that “antibiotics used to treat food animals must only be administered by licensed veterinarians that have met all training and certification requirements.” Its “Human Health” guideline reads “Reduce overall antibiotic usage in food animals, especially when the class of antibiotics used is both a human and food animal medicine. Employ alternative therapies, or use antibiotics not used to treat human disease whenever possible.” Negative and frequently inaccurate headlines, editorials and messages on the Internet feed the frenzy.

Concerned groups have been heard. On Feb. 8, 2007, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) sponsored H.R. 962, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2007, which seeks to cut antibiotic resistance linked to the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Just four days later on Feb. 12, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the same bill in the Senate, S. 549. Other bills with the same title were introduced in previous Congressional sessions: 109th Congress, H.R. 2562; 109th Congress, S. 742; and 108th Congress, S. 1460. These bills failed to make it through the legislative process.

The 2007 Bill would phase out the use as animal feed additives of antibiotics that are also important in human medicine, including penicillin, within two years. The bill also requires pharmaceutical companies manufacturing and marketing agricultural antibiotics to submit data on the quantity of drugs they sell, along with information on the claimed purpose and dosage for those drugs. The intention is to help public health officials track the implementation of the phase-out. (Note: To track this bill, visit, then click on “New Bills” under “Track Congress”.)

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Concern

The American Medical Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the American Academy of Pediatrics are among the more than 350 health and other groups nationwide that have endorsed The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2007.

Public concerns about the potential for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop in animals and transfer to humans are not a new issue. Concerns can be traced to the late 1960s—just 20-some years after the first antibiotic, penicillin, was available to the general public.

The food animal industry has taken numerous steps to address the concerns. “Numerous safeguards have been put into place to ensure that antibiotics are used properly in animals and to minimize the potential for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to transfer to humans,” states Forrest L. Roberts, Marketing Manager, Beef Business Unit, Elanco Animal Health.

“Judicious use guidelines developed by the American Veterinary Medical Association with the assistance from several species-specific veterinary organizations have also been adopted for each individual animal species to ensure the right drug is used at the right time for the right bacteria.”

The guidelines are supported by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration.

Government surveillance programs serve as early warning systems to monitor changes in antibiotic-resistance levels. Through the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors antibiotic resistant levels in animals, and the CCC monitors for changes in levels of antibiotic resistance food-borne human pathogens. Data shows levels of antibiotic resistance in animals have been low and stable, and levels in humans have generally declined since monitoring began in the late 1990s.

Judicious Use of Antimicrobials

The Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) emphasizes the judicious use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals and has developed products targeting veterinarians as a part of its Food Safety Initiative (FSI) Education Program.

CVM guidelines and videos are available for veterinarians on beef and dairy cattle, poultry and swine as well as on aquatic animals at Likewise CVM judicious use of antimicrobial guidelines and videos are available for beef, dairy, pork and poultry producers at cvm/JudUse.htm.

Various national species organizations also have developed judicious use of antimicrobial guidelines that underpin those created by the CVM.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s15 general principles of judicious use that Roberts referred to gave impetus to the National Pork Board’s shared program between pork producers, veterinarians, animal health companies and feed companies. Called Take Care™, the program educates the swine industry on responsible antibiotic use and assures consumers the right steps are being taken. Developed in cooperation with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians as well as other industry organizations, the program consists of five principles for responsible antibiotic use and six specific guidelines for implementation.

“Take Care” defines the standards for responsible use of antibiotics in pork production in a way that is producer friendly and takes into account existing science, animal welfare and animal health,” said Dr. Liz Wagstrom, assistant vice president of science and technology for National Pork Board. “It intends to set the standards for antibiotic use in the pork industry before consumer groups or food service companies dictate them for us.”

Responsible Food Animal Industry

The Coalition for Animal Health serves as the food animal industry’s watchdog and spokesman, overseeing food animal health issues. The Coalition’s mission is to support the use of sound science and risk assessment in decision-making by government regulatory agencies and to provide sound scientific information for use in policy changes and debate.

This group also responds to public dialog on issues related to animal health. In addition to monitoring trends in animal health product usage, the Coalition advocates prudent use of animal drugs in food animal production.

The Coalition for Animal Health is a partnership of major national trade associations representing animal production, animal feed, animal health, veterinary medicine and related industries. Partners include the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Feed Industry Association, Animal Health Institute, American Sheep Industry Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, National Chicken Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council and National Turkey Federation.

July 2007

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