Is Antibiotic Resistance due to Livestock drug use?


Antibiotic Use in Livestock and Resistance
Image via: The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation

One of the most frequent questions I receive relative to livestock production often includes some aspect of antibiotic use. This has been a hot-topic in the food and farm dialogues over the past few years and one that draws a lot of criticism from consumers concerned about antibiotic resistance. Are farmers and ranchers going to step up and share how they use antibiotics? Or will they continue letting someone else share that story?

The one thing that most of us can agree on is that this leads to a complex conversation that is difficult to understand. Antibiotic resistance is also something the science and medical communities have been investigating for some time. Below is a release from the National Institute for Animal Agriculture following a recent symposium on the subject at hand in Kansas City.

I have talked about antibiotic use previously on my blog using my experience working with cattle on ranches and in feedlots. There was also a great discussion on the topic on my Facebook page. I encourage you to take a look and to the farmers: Ask yourself, when was the last time you made an effort to explain to concerned consumers why and how you utilize antibiotics in livestock production. Consider this an invitation to send me a guest post. My readers would love to hear your side of the story.

Antibiotic Resistance Complex, Open to Misinterpretation

KANSAS CITY, MO.—The sharing of science-based antibiotic use and resistance information continued among experts and leaders from the animal, human and public health communities during the “Bridging the Gap Between Animal Health and Human Health” symposium sponsored by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and conducted Nov. 12-14, in Kansas City, Mo. Adding to the symposium’s insightful, transparent discussions were presentations by media and consumer advocacy group representatives as well as questions generated by symposium attendees.

“Antibiotic resistance has been called the single most complex problem in public health, and this symposium provided respective health communities and disciplines a platform where they shared their latest research findings,” states Dr. Nevil Speer, co-chair of the symposium and a professor at Western Kentucky University.

“This year’s antibiotic use and resistance symposium not only shed additional light on this often polarized topic but we identified common ground so a collective path forward that serves the best interests of all parties can be forged.”

The 170-plus symposium participants from across animal, human and environmental health heard a wealth of information, including the following 11 points:

  1. The science behind the emergence, amplification, persistence and transfer of antibiotic resistance is highly complex and open to misinterpretation and misuse. If you think you understand antimicrobial resistance, it hasn’t been explained properly.
  2. The extremely complex relationship between animal health, human health and environmental health is driven by two premises: 1) Antimicrobial resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon that is present with or without the use of antimicrobials; and 2) Anytime an antibiotic enters the ecosystem, it contributes to the presence of antibiotic resistance.
  3. Antibiotic resistance is not just transferred from animals to humans; resistance is also transferred from humans to animals.
  4. Antibiotic resistance is not just a U.S. challenge; it’s an international issue that requires a strategic global One Health approach.
  5. Evaluating antimicrobial resistance involves balancing risks vs. needs while constantly recognizing the importance of maintaining an efficacious arsenal of human antibiotics.
  6. New tools that address food animal infectious diseases must be developed, whether they are in the field of prevention or new molecules for therapeutics.
  7. Research studies and findings are often viewed through different lenses. Individuals can look at the same study and obtain different interpretation of the results and what the study infers based on their own biases.
  8. Decisions should be based on science, and policy should be based on science.  The question, however, is who decides what constitutes evidence that is considered when making those decisions and policies.
  9. Significant efforts are being led by the public health community to reduce inappropriate antibiotic prescribing in human health and reduce hospital-acquired infections. Agriculture needs to be open to change as well.
  10. Change will happen. Open dialogue must continue, with animal agriculture at the table or change will be drastic and by statute and will not be a deliberative policy change.
  11. Solving antibiotic resistance requires collaboration and raises the question “How does human medicine, environmental health and animal medicine work together to address antibiotic use and resistance?”.

You can hear and view “Bridging the Gap between Animal Health and Human Health” symposium presentations—PowerPoints® with voice-over—online within the next two weeks at www.animalagriculture.org. A White Paper summarizing the symposium will be released and available online around Dec. 31.

The National Institute for Animal Agriculture provides a forum for building consensus and advancing proactive solutions for animal agriculture—the beef, dairy, swine, sheep, goats, equine, poultry and aquaculture industries—and provides continuing education and communication linkages for animal agriculture professionals. NIAA is dedicated to programs that work toward  the eradication of disease that pose risk to the health of animals, wildlife and humans; promote a safe and wholesome food supply for our nation and abroad; and promote best practices in environmental stewardship, animal health and well-being. NIAA members represent all facets of animal agriculture.

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5 Comments

  1. My master’s thesis in 1992 dealt with this issue and the economic impact of banning feed antibiotics in pork production. There was little evidence at that time that significant antibiotic resistance was occurring even within the hog industry let alone being passed on to humans. I think it is a topic that needs to be continually studied but it certainly doesn’t deserve the hysteria that non-ag people often attribute to it!

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    1. Agreed Virginia. The recent Beta Agonist case is an example where we do have to continually evaluate our tools and technologies and their effectiveness. Also important that we keep seeking out new and better resources.

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