Antimicrobial Conference, Manhattan, Kansas

It’s been two weeks and my brain is still reeling from all of the information presented at the International Conference on the Use of Antimicrobials in Cattle Production May 27-29 (more information). This conference at Kansas State University was organized by the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) and had 105 in attendance as well as others from across the country viewing the conference live via video feed. In attendance at the three-day conference were veterinarians, researchers, animal health company representatives, producers and even international guests. Also in attendance were representatives from the Union for Concerned Scientists and the Food Animal Concerns Trust – groups who would like to see a reduction or an end to antibiotic use in food animals.

Sixteen speakers, both international and domestic, presented the latest data on antimicrobial use in cattle as well as other livestock. Unfortunately, the data is slim and research needs are many. There are many unanswered questions about antimicrobial resistance and any transference to humans from food animals or animal products. What is blatantly clear is that we need to have and use effective tools to produce a huge volume of food for both domestic and international consumption, but there are forces aligned against the livestock industry who would like to take those tools and efficiencies away.

In their own words
Mixed in with the science of the conference was also emotion. I caught some of these salient quotes from speakers that addressed more than just the research:

  • Paula Fedorka-Cray, MS, PhD, with the USDA National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, said: “We need to feed a rapidly growing population. Increased population means a decreased accessibility to farmland. How do you feed all of the people with a diminished land base? We need to double the amount of livestock for food in the next 41 years. This can only be filled by intensive rearing practices and we must keep that in mind. We must keep our eye on the goal to feed the masses.”
  • Dan Thomson, DVM, PhD, director of the Beef Cattle Institute said: ““We’re trying to produce food and serve humanity. Once we lose our tools, history has shown we don’t get them back.”
  • Christine Hoang, DVM, MPH, CPH, assistant director in the Scientific Activities Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association said: “Veterinarians balance animal health and welfare and human health. Human physicians don’t have that same obligation. We consider risk and benefit in animals and humans in nearly all of the decisions we make.”
  • Charlie Arnot, CEO of the Center for Food Integrity emphasized that the livestock industry has to show consumers in addition to scientific facts, that we are ethically grounded. “If they ask if we ‘should’ do some practice, we should not give them a ‘can’ answer from science -- we need to give them an ethical answer back on why we should do a practice.”
  • Christine Hoang: “We need to think about and consider what raises a legislative flag. Regulatory agencies aren’t the only rule makers. Legislators also have that authority based on whatever information they perceive to be the determining factor. Everyone needs to be involved in legislation and regulatory action.”