This week at the National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s Antibiotic Use in Food Animals: A Dialogue for a Common Purpose conference in Chicago, Ron Phillips, vice president, government and public affairs for the Animal Health Institute, said consumers are confused and concerned about antibiotics used on the farm. “They have been told they are not necessary if farmers would just change their production practices,” he said.
Speaking to a group of over 160 scientists, veterinarians, producers and industry-affiliated groups, Phillips said the terminology, which veterinarians, scientists and those in the industry understand such as therapeutic and subtherapeutic uses of antibiotics, is not well-understood by consumers. “The underlying facts that we need to give consumers are that antibiotics used in food animals are highly regulated and prudently used,” he said.
Layers of protection
What is often misunderstood are the layers of regulation and oversight of antibiotics. “The regulatory system offers several layers of protection pre-market and post-market,” explained Phillips. Pre-market, antibiotics are reviewed by FDA under the same laws and standards as those used in humans. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act requires all antibiotics proven to be safe and effective.
Food animal antibiotics require data packages submitted by sponsors demonstrating safety on three levels – safety for the animals, the environment and the animal product safe for human consumption. There must be efficacy data to show the drug works as it was intended. The quality and ability to manufacture it that is consistent with FDA standards must also be proven.
In 2003, FDA implemented another safety measure to help prevent the development of antibiotic resistance, and that was Guidance 152 for all new antibiotics and existing products.
On the post-marketing safety side, withdrawal times have been established that must be observed. USDA-FSIS tests meat and poultry to ensure compliance, efficacy and prevent residues. The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) with FDA and CDC tracks antibiotic resistance in animals, humans and meat. HACCP sets standards for hygienic slaughter and has reduced foodborne pathogens on meat products.
With collaboration from other groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has developed guidelines for safe and responsible use of antimicrobials and minimizing the need for antibiotic use. See AVMA prudent use guidelines for antibiotics in cattle here.
“Most consumers are unaware of the care taken on-farm to protect the health of animals,” Phillips said. “Antibiotics are not the first or the sole line of defense used to protect animal health. They are only one tool in a larger tool box to protect animal health.”