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Animal antibiotic fears unfounded

Farmers and ranchers are concerned that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposal to restrict antibiotic use in animals is based on theory and not sound science. New hype regarding the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment (HR 965) is claiming overuse of animal antibiotics is causing increased antibiotic-resistance in humans.

“There is no data to indicate that antibiotic use in livestock increases human health problems with antibiotic resistance,” says Beth Blevins, DVM. “The concern that resistance in bacteria is being passed from food animals to people is conjecture. No research has been done proving this happens. The demonstrable methods of antibiotic resistance are either people taking antibiotics for viral, not bacterial, infections or people taking only part of an antibiotic prescription. In these cases, remaining bacteria quickly multiply and may spread their resistance to other bacteria.”

Blevins, who serves as chair of the Montana Farm Bureau Animal Health Committee, says the panic about antibiotics in meat is unfounded. “There is a prescribed withdrawal period for each specific drug that farmers and ranchers use for their animals when they are sick,” she says. “Drugs are licensed for use in this country only after the methods are carefully examined and approved. Research conducted before the antibiotic is for sale determines how long the antibiotic is in the meat or milk. Farmers follow that information, not selling an animal for consumption until it is past the amount of time for the antibiotic to be out of the animal’s system.”

Farmers must sign a paper at the auction yard that is kept on file where animals are sold stating that the farmer will only sell animals that have gone through the withdrawal time.

“As a veterinarian, I remind people to read the labels and go over withdrawal times if an animal is to be salvaged,” she says. “When the guidelines are followed, there are no antibiotics in food products. Testing that is done when the animal is harvested is a further safety net to ensure healthy food.”

Blevins says the concerns about “antibiotics” that are fed are unfounded, as well. “Some feed supplements contain ionophores which are not the type of antibiotics used to treat disease. Ionophores simply change the environment in the gut, making the animal more efficient with its feed,” explains the Ronan veterinarian. “Ionophores stay in the digestive system with 90 percent excreted in the feces. The remainder leaves the body in the urine.” Ionophores are a non‐medically important antimicrobial agent, are not used in human medicine, and play no role in the antimicrobial‐resistance debate.

“Food animal producers have relied on the benefits of antibiotics for many years to keep animals healthy, reduce environmental impact on land and resources, and provide consumers with an abundant supply of safe and affordable meat and poultry. The limitation or elimination of animal antibiotic use in the livestock industry will have significant negative economic and animal health consequences,” Blevins concludes.

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