The role antibiotics play in good animal care is sometimes lost in the complex and confusing debate on agriculture’s contribution to antibiotic resistance. Of course, acknowledging public health concerns is important, but animal welfare needs to be considered, too. There is concern that overly restricting antibiotic use in livestock and poultry could result in failure to treat or delays in treatment that could cause unnecessary animal pain and suffering.
While antibiotics used in agriculture is a much-discussed topic today, the issue really isn’t all that new. The FDA established a task force of scientists in the 1970s to perform a comprehensive review of the use of antibiotics in animal feeds. After a series of hearings, the controversy seemed to die down. When asked why, one of the task force members replied, “We showed it was good for the animals.”
Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health concern that everyone needs to pay attention to. Food producers should openly acknowledge that animal antibiotics need to be used responsibly to minimize agriculture’s contribution to antibiotic resistance.
It’s a fact that leading animal health companies recognize the concern about antibiotic resistance and are now making antibiotics that are important to humans available only for treatment, control and prevention of disease – not growth promotion. By the end of the year, antibiotics important to human medicine will only be available under a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), essentially a prescription from a veterinarian.
The emergence of pathogens that are resistant to multiple antibiotics is something that everybody should respect, investigate and respond to appropriately. But overly-restricting or eliminating antibiotics from food animal production raises serious animal welfare concerns that need to be thoroughly examined.
As a veterinarian, it is my duty to weigh the decision on whether to use antibiotics on the farm in order to balance both public health and animal needs. I took an oath to prevent and treat animal suffering as well as promote public health and protect animal health. It’s a real balancing act some days, but when an animal is sick with a bacterial infection, treating it with antibiotics is the right thing to do.
I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at AskDrDorman@pahc.com or call me at 844-288-3623. You can also browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.