Antibiotics and livestock subject of broad NIAA dialogue

By Matt Reese

To build on the success of their first conference focused on antibiotics in 2011, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture hosted a second conference on the topic late last month in Columbus.

“A one health approach to antimicrobial use and resistance: A dialogue for a common purpose” presented a great forum for the symposium for a number of reasons.

“Columbus is an excellent choice for this. One of the main reasons for this is that we have seven health colleges here at Ohio State on one campus. There are no other universities that can say that,” said Leah Dorman, DVM, director of food programs, Center for Food and Animal Issues for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and symposium co-chair. “And, Lonnie King, who is the dean of the OSU veterinary school and the coordinator between these seven health colleges, is so knowledgeable in the topic of one health with antibiotics.”

Leah answered a few more questions about the background and highlights of the event.

Leah Dorman

OCJ: Part of the intent of the Symposium was to involve a diverse group of people. What groups of people were represented at the event and how many people were in attendance?

Leah: There were about 175 people in attendance. The breakdown was 43% animal health, 9% public health, 19% production agriculture, 14% pharmaceutical and 15% “other.” This includes folks from academia, government, farmers, pharmaceutical companies, commodity organizations, private practice, media and others.

OCJ: What were some of the general highlights from the event?

Leah: A definite highlight of the event was the dialogue that occurred in the room and the networking that occurred in the hallways. Everyone agreed the time has come when academia, government researchers, the scientific community and stakeholders within animal agriculture, human medicine and the environment seek resolution on antibiotic use and resistance. Finding resolution to antibiotic resistance must begin with the end in mind: improving health. Individuals within animal agriculture, human medicine and the environmental field would be ahead to think in bigger and broader dimensions and to focus on interests and not positions. Common ground should be defined, with mutual satisfaction a priority. The facts should be separated from perceived facts. Reactions, emotions and distrust should be suspended. Reaching resolution also requires acceptance that the issues of antibiotic use and resistance are not personal.

More information, including the speaker presentations can be found at


OCJ: Were there any key points made by the presenters at the Symposium?

Leah: Yes.

1) Antimicrobial resistance isn’t a new problem. Scientists report that a sample of bacteria from a cave in New Mexico that has been isolated for more than 4 million years were highly resistant to antibiotics, with some strains resistant to 14 different commercially available antibiotics. This study supports a growing understanding that antibiotic resistance is natural, ancient and hard-wired into their genes.

2) Antimicrobial resistance isn’t a black-and-white issue. Antimicrobial resistance is complex and is more than science and evidence. It’s about politics, behavior, economics and conflicting opinions. And it’s not merely a consequence of use, it’s a consequence of use and misuse and each community — animal health, human health and environmental health — is responsible for antibiotic stewardship.


OCJ: What were some of the most contentious issues of the discussion?

Leah: In livestock, one of the most contentious issues is the use of antibiotics for growth promotion, and prevention and control of disease. In March 2011, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) re-introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA – HR 965). The purpose of the Act is to preserve the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics used in the treatment of human and animal diseases by reviewing the safety of certain antibiotics for nontherapeutic purposes in food-producing animals. While this proposed legislation has not been referred out of Committee, two groups of words raise questions and concerns: “medically important” and “nontherapeutic.” PAMTA is not supported by science, lacks risk-based assessments and has animal welfare implications. It also has the potential to eliminate three of the four Food and Drug Administration’s approved uses of antibiotics in food animals. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) is set to introduce the Delivering Antibiotic Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act that would mandate that the Food and Drug Administration “improve” the data it collects on agricultural antibiotics use, requiring feed mills and drug manufacturers to provide extensive reports. While the ultimate goal of this Act may have merit, the steps required to fulfill the Act are virtually impossible to meet. For example, feed mills will not be able to readily provide information on how drugs are used, and drug manufacturers will not be able to provide estimates of use based on species, indication or quantity.


OCJ: Were some misconceptions (from any side of the debate) discovered through the conference? If so, what were they?

Leah: A key misconception would be that antimicrobial resistance is a fairly new phenomenon, and research clearly shows this it is not. It existed even before mankind. A second misconception uncovered during the Symposium related to the statement so frequently used in the media, by bloggers and on various websites is that 80% of antibiotics in the United States are used in healthy animals. Using sound science and math, one presenter showed that this 80% de factor figure is not accurate. It is a myth that certain groups simply want the public to believe so they keep tossing that figure out, even when it’s incorrect. The 80% figure was deduced from comparing two sets of data that are not comparable. The number for animal use used a wholly different methodology than the estimate presented for human use.

A third misconception corrected during the Symposium related to the animal population being the major source of resistance diversity for humans. Research carried out by the University of Glasgow indicates that it is unlikely that the animal population is the major source of resistance diversity for humans. The study underscores that government policies should not disproportionately impact antibiotic use in food animals without considering the medical use of antibiotics as well as imported foodstuffs and animals abroad.


OCJ: Are there any strategies for moving the antimicrobial debate (and the science) forward in a productive manner with the best interests of humans, animals and agriculture in mind?

Leah: One question posed during an interactive session at the Symposium was “What are the four most important issues that need to be addressed?”   1) From a scientific aspect, more research is needed to define the problem of antimicrobial use and resistance.

2) All stakeholders must be part of the conversation in order to reach a consensus on addressing the problem.

3) All who dispense or use antibiotics should be educated regarding the judicious use of antibiotics.

4) Effective communication is key. This includes communication between consumers and farmers, between animal and human health professionals, and with legislators. Factual information needs to be delivered through mass media.


OCJ: What key things does the livestock industry need to learn from this event?

Leah: The livestock industry has an opportunity to effectively and clearly communicate science-based information regarding antibiotic use and resistance to consumers, legislators and the media. Those in the livestock industry should not sit by and let myths dominate and dictate the direction that conversations and regulation go. We need to continue the open dialogue with all stakeholders, building relationships with those outside of agriculture. We need to take a leadership role in finding resolution among the animal agriculture, human medicine and environmental health communities.


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