Animal Antibiotics

Protecting Animal Health  

Why give farm animals antibiotics? It’s simple. Farmers use antibiotics for the same reason antibiotics are used for people – to treat, control and prevent diseases that cause pain and suffering.

When an animal is sick with a bacterial infection, treating it with antibiotics is the right thing to do. These infections can spread quickly, so sometimes animals that are nearby are treated too, to protect them. It’s critical to ensuring animal health and a safe, affordable food supply.

Antibiotics have been used safely and effectively for decades on the farm. They are one of the most important tools veterinarians use to protect animal health.

Responsible Use and Human Health  

Veterinarians take an oath to protect animal health, to prevent and relieve animal suffering, and to promote public health. This is similar to the oath taken by medical doctors to protect human health. Both work to ensure antibiotics are used responsibly and to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance. You may have heard about antibiotic resistance referred to as a “superbug,” which is any strain of bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi resistant to most of the antibiotics and other medications commonly used to treat the infections they cause. 

In collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the animal health community changed the way antibiotics are used on U.S. farms, addressing in particular antibiotics that are used in both animal and human medicine.   

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists and ranks antibiotics based on their importance to human medicine. Most of the antibiotics used in livestock that are also used for human health are on this list, and certain restrictions apply to their use in agriculture. Animal health companies, farmers, veterinarians, and the FDA, continue to work together to be sure antibiotics are used responsibly in an effort to combat antibiotic resistance.  

Changes that took effect Jan. 1, 2017, only allow medically important antibiotics to be used to fight farm animal diseases and require increased oversight by a veterinarian to further ensure their responsible use. Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health concern and the animal health community is committed to doing their part to ensure animals are well-cared for and public health is protected. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), overuse and misuse of antibiotics in all settings allows the development of resistant bacteria. While all uses of antibiotics can exert selection pressure for resistant organisms, research shows the risk of antibiotic use in animals is extremely low compared to uses in human healthcare settings. Regardless, the agriculture and the animal health industry want to do what they can to keep animals and people healthy, and our food safe. Responsible use of antibiotics by doctors and patients, as well as veterinarians and farmers, helps reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance. 

Antibiotics Explained: Resistance vs. Residue   

Antibiotic “resistance” refers to bacteria that evolve to the point they are not easily killed by antibiotics. This is different from antibiotic “residue.”  

Antibiotic “residue” refers to molecules that remain in meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics. There are multiple systems in place to ensure meat is safe and does not contain harmful antibiotic residues including mandatory antibiotic withdrawal periods in animals. Farmers and veterinarians are required to keep an animal treated with medication out of the food system for the specified period of time to ensure the food is safe to consume.  

In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and food companies routinely test meat to ensure we all have the safe food we deserve. You can be assured that animal products will not have antibiotics in them that pose a risk to human health; that includes milk, which is tested on the farm before it goes into a tanker truck and at the processor. Although rare, if antibiotic violations are detected, the milk or meat is discarded and does not enter the food supply. 

Antibiotics Help Keep Food Safe and Affordable   

Responsible use of animal antibiotics benefits all of us by making food safer and more affordable. Antibiotics make food safer by helping keep animals healthy, and studies show this reduces bacteria entering the food supply. DYK? Cooking meat to the proper temperature kills all bacteria, eliminating the possibility of exposure to resistant bacteria. It is also important to handle raw meat properly to prevent spreading bacteria to other foods. 

With continual innovation on the farm and tools like antibiotics, farmers can produce more food using fewer natural resources. That keeps food more affordable for all of us.    

New Solutions to Protect Animal Health  

Animal health companies and universities are researching and developing new ways to protect and improve animal health that will help reduce the need for animal antibiotics in the future. 

For example, nutritional supplements are utilized to help improve gut health in poultry  Other products help decrease the effects of stress and improve the immune response of fish and cows.  Keeping animals healthy can lead to a decrease in the need for antibiotics. 

Animal health researchers are working to develop innovative vaccines to reduce the risk of infection. Successful disease prevention will help to reduce the need for antibiotics. 

Animal health companies envision a future where multiple tools are used to keep animals healthy. We strive to find new solutions, while recognizing that there remain circumstances in which responsible use of antibiotics, is the right thing to do.