USFRA's Point of View

USFRA believes that farmers and ranchers and our partners must do what is in their power to keep animals safe and healthy. And when animals are sick or at risk of becoming sick, they should be cared for in adherence with evidence-based standards of veterinary medicine to decrease suffering. 

USFRA is made up of people in agriculture with a variety of perspectives and views. Most of USFRA’s farmers and ranchers choose to use antibiotics to humanely care for sick animals and to keep animals healthy. Some of our farmers choose not to use antibiotics – and they may choose to market their products as “no antibiotics added.” In addition, we have industry partners who develop and manufacture antibiotics.

Farmers and ranchers work closely with veterinarians to develop a comprehensive herd health program, which includes many tools such as vaccination, proper housing and antibiotics when necessary to keep animals healthy. However, responsible antibiotic use is often the best choice to treat sick animals, as well as to prevent animals during key times of their lives from getting sick or suffering. We support science-based, peer reviewed programs that are designed and monitored by veterinarians and animal care experts.

USFRA believes practices that make our businesses stronger over time are those that also improve the quality and safety of our food. Today, farmers and ranchers are continuously improving how they monitor the health and well-being of their animals – as well as the way they use antibiotics.

USFRA believes that farmers and ranchers and our partners must do what is in their power to keep animals safe and healthy. And when animals are sick or at risk of becoming sick, they should be cared for in adherence with evidence-based standards of veterinary medicine to decrease suffering. USFRA is made up of people in agriculture with a variety...

Questions & Answers

Are all antibiotics used for farm animals safe?

FDA Approval Process Is Stringent: FDA has a stringent approval process for veterinary medicines and antibiotics – much like that for human medications. In fact, antibiotics for use in animals require the same testing as those used in humans, with the additional requirement that they must be tested to ensure meat and milk from the animal given the medicine will be safe for human consumption. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2011). From an Idea to the Marketplace: The Journey of an Animal Drug through the Approval Process. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from www.fda.gov.)

Other countries have eliminated antibiotic use in farm animals. Why shouldn’t we here in the U.S.?

A ban on antibiotic use on farms to treat sick animals or prevent illness would lead to animal suffering and mortality and would create food safety challenges. 

Eliminating antibiotics to prevent or control disease in farm animals in other countries such as Denmark has not reduced the amount of antibiotic resistant bacteria infections and strains harmful to people.  And it has even led to increased need for treatment of animals with newer, stronger antibiotics that are more closely related to those used in human medicine and other problems.  

Are antibiotics used for growth purposes in food animals?

Some farmers and ranchers use antibiotics to promote lean muscle production in animals.  In 2007, this accounted for about 13 percent of antibiotic use.  As part of the efforts to minimize future risk of antibiotic treatment failure in humans, antibiotics important to human medicine used for growth purposes in food animals will be eliminated within three to four years in accordance with the FDA Guidance 209 and 213 (FDA).  (Note: the exact timing depends on the final issuance of the FDA guidelines expected in 2013)

Why do farmers need to treat animals with antibiotics pre-emptively?

Human and animal health treatment differs. In humans, doctors tend to treat the individual. In farm animals, veterinarians tend to treat the herd. Farmers and ranchers work closely with veterinarians to develop a comprehensive herd health program, which includes many tools such as vaccination, proper housing, hygiene and antibiotics. Preventing or controlling the spread of a disease is critical to keeping animals safe and healthy – and to prevent suffering or unsafe conditions. They can’t stay home and isolate themselves like people can when they are ill. It is more humane and safer to prevent illness than to treat a sick animal that later may infect other animals.

If farmers did not treat sick animals, many would suffer and die.  This would be inhumane – and even those who say they are against antibiotic use, such as Consumers Union, agree that sick animals should be treated.

When are antibiotics used on farms/ranches?

Farmers do not constantly treat farm animals with antibiotics. When they do use antibiotics, they do so according to label and dosing instructions approved by the FDA and under the care of a veterinarian.  Often they are administered in feed for critical periods such as post-weaning as advised by a supervising veterinarian. 

When sick animals are being treated, farmers and ranchers carefully identify them and monitor them closely until they return to good health.

Here are examples of when antibiotics are used: 

  • To treat sick animals: Animals on all farms, just like people in all types of families and homes, get sick. Without antibiotic treatment, many of these animals would suffer needlessly and die. 
  • To prevent and control disease: Human and animal health treatment differs. In humans, doctors tend to treat the individual. In farm animals, veterinarians tend to treat the herd.  Farmers and ranchers work closely with veterinarians to develop a comprehensive herd health program, which includes many tools such as vaccination, proper housing, hygiene and antibiotics. Preventing or controlling the spread of a disease is critical to keeping animals safe and healthy – and to prevent suffering or unsafe conditions. They can’t stay home and isolate themselves like people can when they are ill. It is more humane and safer to prevent illness than to treat a sick animal that later may infect other animals.
  • To promote growth: Some farmers and ranchers use antibiotics to promote lean muscle production in animals.  In 2007, this accounted for about 13 percent of antibiotic use.  Human antibiotic use on farms for growth purposes will be eliminated within three to four years in accordance with FDA Guidance 209 and 213 (FDA).

Are antibiotics used for farm animals creating superbugs?

Farmers, ranchers and their partners recognize that the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a concern in both human and animal medicine. They are committed to deploying and developing production practices that keep the risk of the development of resistance in human health extremely low.

Although there has been no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotic use in animals for consumption, they are working to minimize future risk. Everyone – farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, doctors, researchers and companies working in animal or human medicine needs to work collaboratively to protect animal and human health. 

The majority of MRSA clinical infections in humans are due to human (versus livestock) strains of MRSA, yet many people are unfairly blaming the prevalence of MRSA in humans on agriculture. To date, no clinical case of MRSA in a human related to livestock has been identified in the United States.

To clarify, antibiotic resistant bacteria can be foodborne or non-foodborne. Non-food strains began emerging decades ago in hospital settings and are not linked to animals in our food system. These are the vast majority of the cases that are so hard to treat and are making people sick.

There are occasional cases of antibiotic resistant foodborne bacteria such as antibiotic resistant salmonella. But salmonella is killed when food is cooked and handled properly. So, people becoming ill from antibiotic resistant foodborne bacteria and not being able to be treated in some manner, is rare if not almost non-existent. 

(Hurd SH, Doores S, Hayes D, Mathew Am Maurer J, Silley P, Randall SS and Jones RN (2004). Public Health Consequences of Macrolide Use in Food Animals: A Deterministic Risk Assessment. Journal of Food Protection, 67( 5): 980–992.)

All antibiotics are critical to human health, right?

Not all antibiotics are the same. For example, some are used in both people and animals. Some are used primarily in animals and are not medically important to people – and aren’t leading to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria that is harmful to people. Of the antibiotics used in farm animals today, about one third are called ionophores and are not medically important nor used in humans - meaning if resistance to these drugs did develop, it will have little impact on public health. Further, use of medically important antibiotics actually decreased from 2010 to 2011 on farms while meat production increased (hurdhealth.com; FDA reporting).

Is milk tested for my safety?

All Milk Tested for Antibiotics: All milk is strictly tested for antibiotics on the farm and at the processing plant. Any milk that tests positive cannot be sold to the public. Likewise, all livestock animals must wait before a treated animal may be slaughtered to assure any antibiotics have cleared the animal’s system. Both meat and milk are rigorously monitored. (American Dairy Association and Dairy Council. (2003). Organic Milk FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.adadc.com/OrganicFAQ.pdf)

Do animals being raised with the intention of being marketed as “antibiotic-free” receive antibiotics if they get sick?

Often when animals being raised “antibiotic free” get sick, they are treated with antibiotics. These animals are simply separated from the non-antibiotic group and marketed as conventional meat after proper withdrawal times have elapsed.

What steps are farmers, ranchers and the agriculture industry at-large taking to minimize development of antibiotic resistant bacteria?

The industry is taking proactive steps to ensure that antibiotics are being judiciously used to minimize the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Specifically:

  • No more use for growth purposes: Antibiotics important to human medicine used for growth purposes in food animals will be eliminated within three to four years in accordance with the FDA Guidance 209 and 213 (FDA).  (Note: the exact timing depends on the final issuance of the FDA guidelines expected in 2013)
     
  • Use under the care of a veterinarian: Veterinarian oversight is critical to farmers’ and ranchers’ use of antibiotics. In particular, medically critical antibiotics to human health are administered under the guidance of a veterinarian. Here are the facts:
    • Farmers can administer antibiotics to animals through injection, feed, water or, occasionally, in pill form.

    • The oversight of a veterinarian for all uses of medically important antibiotics is part of FDA Guidance 209 as well part of farmers’ routine practice through quality assurance programs.  Antibiotics not medically important to humans will still be available over the counter for animals use.

  • Using less medically critical antibiotics: Not all antibiotics are the same. For example, some are used in both people and animals.  Some are used primarily in animals and are not medically important to people – and aren’t leading to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria that is harmful to people. Of the antibiotics used in farm animals today, about one third are called ionophores and are not medically important nor used in humans. Further, use of medically important antibiotics actually decreased from 2010 to 2011 on farms while meat production increased (hurdhealth.com; FDA reporting)
     
  • Strict Approval Process and Monitoring: The FDA has a rigorous approval process for antibiotics labeled for use in animals raised for food.  Farmers, ranchers and veterinarians are legally and ethically obligated to follow FDA's requirements for the use of antibiotics on the farm. The FDA has used its authority to limit the use of critically important antibiotics.  For example, these critically important antibiotics are only used in animals for the treatment and control of diseases – and not for promoting growth or preventing disease. In addition, regulatory approval of antibiotics is, in many ways, stricter for farm animal use than for human use because antibiotics used in animals must be proven to be safe for the animals, the environment and for people. Antibiotics approved for human use only need to be proven to be safe for people. And since 1998, the FDA has implemented the National Antimicrobial Resistant Monitoring System (NARMS) to create an early warning system to monitor risk of the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans, animals and meat for consumption.

What about the rise of MRSA in humans? Is there a correlation between MRSA and antibiotic use in animals?

The majority of MRSA clinical infections in humans are due to human (versus livestock) strains of MRSA, yet many people are unfairly blaming the prevalence of MRSA in humans on agriculture. To date, no clinical case of MRSA in a human related to livestock has been identified in the United States.

To clarify, antibiotic resistant bacteria can be foodborne or non-foodborne. Non-food strains began emerging decades ago in hospital settings and are not linked to animals in our food system. These are the vast majority of the cases that are so hard to treat and are making people sick.

There are occasional cases of antibiotic resistant foodborne bacteria such as antibiotic resistant salmonella. But salmonella is killed when food is cooked and handled properly. So, people becoming ill from antibiotic resistant foodborne bacteria and not being able to be treated in some manner, is rare if not almost non-existent.

Do organic animals get sick and if so, what does that farmer or rancher use to treat the animal?

When Organic Animals Are Sick, They May be Treated with Antibiotics: When an animal raised for food on an organic farm becomes ill, organic livestock producers utilize natural remedies. If these remedies are ineffective then it must be given medical treatment including antibiotics if appropriate for the illness. Once an animal is treated with antibiotics, it cannot be sold as organic. (U.S. Department of Agriculture 7 CFR 205.238 (c)).

Has the use of antibiotics in farm animals led to antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans?

Farmers, ranchers and their partners recognize that the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a concern in both human and animal medicine. They are committed to deploying and developing production practices that keep the risk of the development of resistance in human health extremely low.

Although there has been no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotic use in animals for consumption, they are working to minimize future risk. Everyone – farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, doctors, researchers and companies working in animal or human medicine needs to work collaboratively to protect animal and human health.  

What does the ‘judicious’ use of antibiotics mean?

Farmers and ranchers use antibiotics judiciously to keep the potential risk extremely low of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria that is harmful to people. They work closely with veterinarians and under the guidelines of the FDA in the best interests of animal welfare and public health. Farmers and ranchers use a variety of tools including vaccines, good nutrition programs and proper housing to keep animals healthy.  Antibiotics are only one tool in a plan of good production practices to raise healthy farm animals.­ Farmers do not constantly treat farm animals with antibiotics.  When they do use antibiotics, they do so according to label and dosing instructions approved by the FDA.

Is there concern that antibiotics are being overused on farm animals?

Statistics often reported in media claiming overuse of antibiotics on farms are often used in misleading ways. Consider:

  • Not all antibiotics are used for all purposes. Different antibiotics are used to treat different bacteria in animals and humans. 
  • About 1/3 of the antibiotics used on farms aren’t used in human medicine at all – meaning if resistance to these drugs did develop, it will have little impact on public health.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the diseases caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria with the most impact on human health are spread by human to human contact, such as through healthcare settings. For example, human MRSA strains responsible for the majority of human MRSA cases in hospital and community settings, but they are not related to livestock. (FDA and CDC).

Why do farmers and ranchers use antibiotics on farm animals raised for food?

Healthy animals are the basis of a healthy, humane and safe food system. That is why it is so important to prevent and control diseases in farm animals and to treat animals when they are sick. Farmers and ranchers use antibiotics judiciously to keep the potential risk extremely low of developing antibiotic resistant bacteria that is harmful to people. 

They work closely with veterinarians and under the guidelines of the FDA in the best interests of animal welfare and public health. Farmers and ranchers use a variety of tools including vaccines, good nutrition programs and proper housing to keep animals healthy. Antibiotics are only one tool in a plan of good production practices to raise healthy farm animals.­

When sick animals are being treated, farmers and ranchers carefully identify them and monitor them closely until they return to good health. If farmers did not treat sick animals, many would suffer and die.  This would be inhumane – and even those who say they are against antibiotic use, such as Consumers Union, agree that sick animals should be treated.

What kind of oversight is in place for antibiotic use in farm animals used for food?

Veterinarian oversight is critical to farmers’ and ranchers’ use of antibiotics. In particular, medically critical antibiotics to human health are administered under the guidance of a veterinarian. Here are the facts:

  • Farmers can administer antibiotics to animals through injection, feed, water or, occasionally, in pill form.
  • The oversight of a veterinarian for all uses of medically important antibiotics is part of FDA Guidance 209 as well part of farmers’ routine practice through quality assurance programs.  Antibiotics not medically important to humans will still be available over the counter for animals use.

Antibiotics important to human medicine used for growth purposes in food animals are being phased out within three to four years in accordance with the FDA Guidance 209 and 213 (FDA).

Additionally, the FDA has a rigorous approval process for antibiotics labeled for use in animals raised for food. The FDA has been active in monitoring farm animal use of antibiotics and adjusting regulations accordingly. Farmers, ranchers and veterinarians are legally and ethically obligated to follow FDA's requirements for the use of antibiotics on the farm.

How and why are antibiotics used?

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