It seems that every other week I hear about how unsafe our food supply has become, that livestock producers are poisoning an unknowing public with all manner of substances and that antibiotic use in livestock should be banned because of bacterial resistance to certain antibiotics. Much of what I hear on news shows and read in magazines or newspapers seems often to be biased against prudent use of pharmaceuticals in livestock production. I have a few thoughts based on experience and research that I would like to discuss in more detail in this column.
There are innumerable articles detailing all sides of the problem of antibiotic resistance, food safety and livestock production in general.
First, there are many levels of testing that check for antibiotics and other medications in both meat and milk. Any sample found containing unacceptable FDA levels of those medications DOES NOT GO INTO THE FOOD SUPPLY. There are no appreciable levels of antibiotics, steroids or other medications in your milk or meat supply. In regards to BST in milk, which in past years has received much scrutiny, there is simply no difference chemically between synthetic bovine somatotropin and the natural chemical that all cows’ produce themselves and have since the beginning of time. All currently FDA approved growth implants used in feeder cattle are labeled with no meat withdrawal time when used according to label. There is little, if any, evidence that vaccines given according to label directions pose any significant threat to the public.
A second point I would like to discuss is the use of antibiotics in livestock production. There are numerous reports in the mass media suggesting that agricultural use of antibiotics is the primary driving force causing development of antibiotic resistance by bacteria. While their use has to be considered when this discussion takes place, some points should be made. In the last 10 years, research indicates that the incidence of food poisoning in the U.S. has decreased for nearly all food borne illnesses significantly. In addition, several peer-reviewed journal studies published in the past 3-5 years indicate that bacteria levels are actually higher in animals not treated with antibiotics. A study published in April of this year indicates a 30 percent increase in the incidence of Salmonella in antibiotic-free pigs when compared to conventionally raised pigs. Countries in Europe, which in many cases have banned prophylactic antibiotic use for the past 10 years, are finding that food-borne illness and antibiotic resistance rates have risen during that time. A 2003 study from Denmark found that human-drug resistance to Campylobacter rose sharply between 1997 and 2001; those same levels fell 30 percent in the U.S., where antibiotic use remains legal. I found numerous other studies that outline similar findings. So it would seem to me that antibiotic use has not led to decreased health, but rather an increase in food and human safety.
However, you as producers have a responsibility to use medications appropriately in order to maintain this level of safety. Not every sick or injured animal needs antibiotics as part of their treatment. Use labeled dosages of antibiotics and follow appropriate milk and meat slaughter withdrawal times when using antibiotics. DO not USE ANTIBIOTICS THAT ARE BANNED FOR USE IN CERTAIN SPECIES OF FOOD ANIMALS! This is not only illegal, but it provides ammunition for activist groups to push for the removal of even more treatment modalities used in livestock production. Don’t give government agencies another reason to look over our shoulder with tighter regulations and rules. Prudent use of antibiotics, both for treatment and prophylaxis, is an important part of producing the safest food supply in the world.
Mike Bloss, DVM, owns Countryside Animal Clinic with his wife, Kirstin Bloss, DVM, in Aurora, Mo.