The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) recently tackled the tough topic of antibiotic use in livestock during a roundtable discussion featuring third-party experts Julie Funk and Melissa Joy Dobbins. The duo answered pressing questions consumers have about antibiotic use in livestock production, reassuring the public that ranchers use antibiotics responsibly with veterinary oversight to maintain a safe food supply.
"Clients of all walks of life, especially women, are concerned about antibiotics in their food," said Dobbins, a registered, licensed dietitian and a certified diabetes educator. "I try to give my patients information about food to help guide their decisions. Today, I still see a lot of confusion. What I hear a lot is the assumption that animals are routinely fed antibiotics, and it's standard practice. As an educator, I want to take a step back and ask, is that true? And, if it is, what are the reasons behind that?"
Here are three pressing questions consumers ask about antibiotic use:
"We use antibiotics to try and kill bacteria that are making us sick," said Funk, who is the online master of science food safety program director and an associate professor of pre-harvest food safety in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. "Resistance is the ability of the bacteria to not be killed by the antibiotic we are using. If we introduce an antibiotic into the world, ultimately you do select for some bacteria to be resistant. Ways antibiotic resistance is happening is through the increased use of antibacterial hand sanitizer and prescription medicines. It's really unclear that animal agriculture is impacting human health directly."
Even though there is no direct correlation between human resistance to antibiotics and livestock production, the big concern is that antibiotics will end up in the meat and milk supply.
"Let's look at what consumers can do when serving foods to their family to be safe," said Dobbins. "Wash food well and cook it properly to reduce risk for food borne illness and antibiotic residues."
"Producers keep standard procedures, following BQA guidelines and veterinarian recommendations when using antibiotics," added Funk. "They keep records to know when the animal received treatment, so there are no drug residues entering the food supply."
"The way I look at this, I think about my family," said Funk. "Even if we eat well, get enough sleep and take care of ourselves, we can still get sick, no matter what we do. From an animal health standpoint, it's not right to not being able to treat animals that are sick. To think we will never have a sick animal that won't need antibiotics isn't reasonable. What we really want to be concerned about is if antibiotics are used judicially, for the animal's best health. Most of the antimicrobials that help treat animals will help treat humans, as well. For example, penicillin or tetracycline both work well for livestock and people. If we don't treat animals preventatively, the incidence of illness is very high. To wait for an outbreak would cause more problems for animal health."
"There are antibiotics that require a veterinarian prescription, and there are many that don't," said Funk. "In every survey of producers, most use a veterinarian for advice and oversight. Just because you don't need a prescription, doesn't mean there still aren't guidelines for use. To not follow these guidelines, there really is no benefit. It would be harmful to the animal and economically, it would hurt the ranch business."
The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) shares these facts with consumers about antibiotic use in livestock:
1. Producers consult with veterinarians about antibiotic use. In fact, veterinarian involvement is mandated for all antibiotics approved since 1988.
2. Meat and poultry for food are rigorously monitored by law. Meat and poultry for human consumption must pass inspection and monitoring by the Food Safety Inspection Service under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.
3. Many antibiotics sold for animal use are not used to treat humans. According to FDA statistics, 35 percent of antibiotics sold for animal use are in classes not used in human medicine. And all antibiotics are carefully examined for any human health implications before they are approved and incorporated into labeling. This means they have no possibility of contributing to antibiotic resistance bacteria in people.
4. There are no cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic-resistant superbugs. There has been no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotics used in animals for consumption.
Editor's Note: For more information, visit www.fooddialogues.com/2012/03/28/overview-antibiotics-use-in-animals-raised-for-food