Promoting responsible antibiotic use on the farm

Antibiotic resistance has become a hot topic in animal agriculture, due to new regulations as well as pressure from activist groups, retailers, foodservice companies and customers.

In a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2017 Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show, Dr. Jennifer Wishnie, a veterinary public health expert, gave an overview of the growing interest, pressure and misunderstanding about antibiotics in animal agriculture, how farmers and ranchers are addressing changes on the farm due to new regulations, and how they can help to educate the public about the responsible use of antibiotics.

“Many consumers don’t realize that there is veterinary oversight on the farm,” said Dr. Wishnie. “This gives us opportunities to educate them on how antibiotics are used responsibly. When we use antibiotics, there is a potential for resistance to develop, so using them appropriately helps minimize this resistance.”

An additional concern, Wishnie said, is the confusion between antibiotic residues and antibiotic resistance, which are not the same. This confusion can lead consumers to question whether there are antibiotics in their food. Consumers should understand that the Food and Drug Administration addresses residues by approving antibiotics with specific withdrawal times, which assures that residues are not present in meat for consumption.

“This is an important distinction,” Wishnie said. “If we use an antibiotic responsibly and follow the withdrawal time, the antibiotic residue is minimized, and our food is safe. But this is a point that consumers really don’t understand.”

New Agriculture Department regulations that went into effect on Jan. 1 are a significant regulatory step that will change how antimicrobials are used in food production on the farm.  Once the labels are changed, it will be illegal to use medically important antibiotics to promote animal growth.

“The overarching thinking, and now the regulation, behind all of these guidances was removal of growth promotion or nutritional efficiency uses of medically important antibiotics in feed and water, and bringing the therapeutic uses under increased veterinary oversight,” Wishnie said.

The new rules will undoubtedly require more time and cost, and a lot of record-keeping. Records will have to be kept for two years by the feed mill, the producer and the veterinarian.

According to Wishnie, responsible antibiotic use by all sectors is vital to minimizing the potential for antibiotic resistance. Additionally, collaboration and communication between all stakeholders, including doctors and patients, veterinarians and farmers, as well as government, academia and industry, is essential to better understand and strategically address this topic.

“This is an ongoing conversation. It’s important to communicate,” Wishnie said. “Many new pressures are coming, and a lot of them exist from some misunderstandings, particularly on the consumer side. So those opportunities to talk with your neighbors or to the public about what you do and how veterinarians are involved, your long history of farming and how you use antibiotics responsibly to maintain animal health, I think, can be really enlightening to some people who have no idea [about where their food comes from] other than going to the grocery store.”

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