Livestock Care and Antibiotic Use
Livestock farmers want their animals to be healthy and well cared for. They follow the recommendations of their veterinarians. Many farmers choose to raise their animals in modern barns, which protect them from predators, disease and extreme climates. These barns are warm, well-lit and scientifically designed for the specific needs of the animal.
Another concern for livestock is bacterial disease which causes pain, distress and even death. Antibiotics, when used responsibly, are an essential element in the fight against disease and can reduce suffering and speed recovery in infected animals.
Antibiotics are also sometimes used to prevent diseases that might occur in a herd or group of animals. In some situations when the proportion of animals suffering a disease during a defined time period reaches a threshold value, all animals in the herd or group are treated as the probability of most or all of the animals getting sick is high.
In both treatment and prevention of disease, medicine is administered over a defined — preferably short — period of time and must be prescribed by a veterinarian.
Only FDA-approved antibiotics are used in livestock
The safety assessment of a drug for food animals in the U.S. is more stringent than the drug approval process for humans and was strengthened in 2003.
The Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), a branch of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is responsible for ensuring that animal drugs are safe and effective, and manufactured to the highest quality standards. Research regarding drug safety for food animals has to prove it not only safely cures the illness in the animal — it must also pose no risk to other animals or humans who come in contact with it during treatment.
In addition, before a livestock antibiotic is approved, research must also prove there are no harmful residues of the drug left anywhere in the animal by the time it enters the food chain.
It is essential that careful scientific risk assessments be conducted as the basis for public policy. Decisions made without a thorough review can lead to harmful health risks, as well as unnecessary animal suffering.
Scientists and medical experts agree that hospital and community-acquired diseases, unrelated to animal drug use, constitute the major issue in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There is no scientifically proven link that shows such resistance was transferred from livestock to humans.* Regardless, the government, animal health industry, farmers and ranchers have implemented steps to ensure antibiotic use in food producing animals does not affect human health. These protective measures include:
- A stringent approval process that was made more robust with the addition of risk assessment requirements in 2003. Some of the compounds affected by the proposed legislation are undergoing review based on these new requirements.
- Post-approval risk assessments that allow policymakers to measure the risks and benefits of a proposed policy have been conducted and published by FDA, sponsors and researchers.
- Food-safety monitoring and surveillance programs that have been established by government agencies and sponsors to track the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
- Responsible-use programs that are specific to the different livestock species to give producers detailed guidelines on how to safely and properly use antibiotics in their health-management systems.
*Ron Jones, M.D., Primary Investigator, SENTRY program, “Contemporary Patterns of Antibiotic Resistance in Humans”.