Antibiotic stewardship and responsible use of antibiotics are terms that are used quite often these days. But, what do they mean? On the animal side, it means utilizing vaccines, proper nutrition, good ventilation, biosecurity, appropriate housing and other tools to reduce the need for antibiotics. This includes limiting use of antibiotics only for the treatment, prevention and control of disease. But, it also means responsibly treating animals with antibiotics when that’s the best option to prevent animal suffering.
Farmers and veterinarians understand that antibiotic resistance is a serious public health concern. In fact, the animal health community is making changes that will eliminate certain uses of antibiotics. Specifically, antibiotics important to human medicine will no longer be used to improve growth in animals.
When defining antibiotic stewardship we must rely on evidence-based prescribing, rather than wholesale bans or volume limits. The truth is that the benefits of responsible use of antibiotics must be considered when defining stewardship, just as we must consider the potential impact on antibiotic resistance.
Responsible use of animal antibiotics makes food safer by helping keep animals healthy, and studies show this reduces bacteria entering the food supply. Of course, fundamentally, the use of antibiotics helps prevent animal suffering. As a veterinarian, I took an oath to protect animal health, prevent and relieve animal suffering and promote public health, and that oath remains as important to me today as when I first made that commitment more than 20 years ago. When an animal is sick with a bacterial infection, treating it with antibiotics is the ethical thing to do.
Suzanne McMillan, content director for the Farm Animal Welfare Campaign of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (APSCA) was quoted saying, “If animal welfare is not addressed in conjunction with pulling back the drugs, this could actually be a very dangerous move for birds and ultimately for consumers.”
In addition, antibiotics are part of sustainable animal production, helping to reduce the consumption of natural resources. When left untreated, sick animals may not survive or may require more food to become healthy. If more animals or food are needed, more grain must be grown, which requires more fertilizer, water and acres of land. This can also drive-up the cost in the supermarket.
Protecting the effectiveness of human antibiotics is a top priority for all of us – farmers, veterinarians, medical doctors and public health experts. How we achieve that protection is immensely important. We should be guided by sound science and our consciences when navigating the pathway forward. Strong collaboration will help to ensure that any changes we make in antibiotic use do not have unintended consequences.
I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at AskDrDorman@pahc.com or call me at 1-844-288-3623. Also feel free to browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.