How are antibiotics in agriculture being used in 2017?

November 13, 2017

We all recognize that the development of resistance to antibiotics, and the resulting loss of their effectiveness, poses a serious public health threat.

And although there is scientific acknowledgment that the use of antibiotics in people is the primary source of antibiotic resistance, the animal health community recognizes that antibiotics must be used responsibly in food animals to minimize agriculture’s contribution to antibiotic resistance.

That’s why the company I work for, Phibro Animal Health, and others in the field of animal health products collaborated with each other, veterinarians and regulators, to voluntarily support an expanded role for veterinarians, as well as limitations that allow use of antibiotics important to human medicine only for disease treatment, control and prevention – no longer for growth promotion.


Disease treatment is a specific use of antibiotics aimed at curing sick animals; when an animal is sick with a bacterial infection, treating it with antibiotics is the ethical thing to do.


Disease control means disease is present in a flock or herd; if one animal gets sick, the infection can spread quickly through the entire flock or herd, so antibiotics are given to reduce the spread of disease.


Preventive use of antibiotics reduces the likelihood animals get sick when there is high risk of disease. For example, a veterinarian might see that animals transported during bad weather are at risk of developing bacterial pneumonia, which can cause pain and suffering and can give an antibiotic to prevent disease.

Some question antibiotic use for prevention but the Food and Drug Administration considers treatment, control and prevention of specific diseases necessary for assuring the health of food-producing animals. It sees these changes, which took effect Jan. 1, as an important part of the overall strategy to ensure the responsible use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals.

Increased veterinary oversight

Phibro also supported the changes that increased veterinary oversight for the use of medically important antibiotics in feed or water. A veterinary feed directive is now required before these antibiotics can be used in feed and a prescription is required for antibiotics to be used in water to treat, control and prevent disease in flocks and herds.

This new approach to antibiotic use ensures strong veterinary oversight. Veterinarians take an oath to prevent and treat animal suffering as well as promote public health and protect animal health. The veterinarian’s role is to consider several factors including risk (likelihood of disease), health history of the flock or herd, using the right antibiotic for the disease and appropriately timing the medication.

At the same time, it allows the flexibility farmers and veterinarians need to ethically care for their animals when facing a wide range of circumstances. The goal of these changes is to optimize animal welfare while managing antibiotic resistance.

This year’s changes came after the FDA considered a number of reports before issuing draft guidance in 2010, recognizing the importance of antibiotics for addressing health needs of animals. It was pointed out that antibiotics have been widely used for more than a half-century, benefitting both human and animal health. The FDA sees these changes, which took effect Jan. 1, as an important part of the overall strategy to ensure the responsible use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals.

2017 is year of change

So if it seems like attention on antibiotic resistance has intensified in the last several years – it has. That’s why I think of 2017 as the year of change. And farmers and veterinarians are on the front lines with government agencies, working together to fight antibiotic resistance.

Treating and preventing disease that causes pain and suffering is the right thing to do. Despite the changing regulatory landscape, this statement is as true now as it was when antibiotics were first used in food animals decades ago.

I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at or call me at 844-288-3623. You can also browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.