Lately there have been several large media stories related to the use of antibiotics in livestock production. They are claiming that the use is causing “super bugs” that cannot be killed by currently available antibiotics in humans. Even though scientifi c evidence currently supports continued use of antibiotics in livestock, it is important for producers to make sure they are using these products responsibly and judiciously.

Antibiotics, also called antimicrobials, are used to treat disease in livestock. Zoonotic diseases are those that normally exist in animals, but that can infect humans. Examples of zoonotic pathogens include Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli. These particular zoonotic bacteria are of concern because they are major causes of foodborne illness in the United States.

In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) to monitor antimicrobial drug resistance in humans, animals, and retail meat. The collaborative efforts of the FDA, CDC, and USDA work through NARMS to conduct susceptibility testing on several strains of bacteria with different antimicrobials. Trend analysis of the data is used by NARMS to monitor patterns of emerging resistance and ultimately guide policy for the use of antibiotics in livestock. In addition, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regularly tests meat for antibiotic residue. No antibiotic residue is allowed in meat. Several industry groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association support judicious use of antimicrobials and have recommendations in place to ensure the proper use of these drugs. Some of these judicious use principles include:

• Use of antibiotics should be under the direction of a licensed veterinarian.
• Only using antibiotics according to the label; they should be used to prevent or control disease.
• A veterinarian-client-patient relationship is required for extra-label use of antimicrobials.
• Preventative strategies including proper care and management of animals, regular health monitoring, and use of vaccinations to prevent disease are important.
• Avoid using antibiotics that are important in human medicine.
• Treat the fewest number of animals possible
• Use as narrow of a spectrum of antimicrobials as possible.
• Strictly adhering to withdrawal times.
• Keep records of use of antimicrobials.
• Properly dispose of unused antibiotics to protect the environment.

Antibiotic use in livestock and its relationship to food safety will continue to be monitored by NARMS. Cattle producers should adapt antimicrobial judicious use principles to reduce risk of antimicrobial resistance and help ensure the continued safety and quality of the food products they produce.

Source: Dr. Jeannine Schweihofer, Michigan State University Extension Beef Educator