By Wanda Patsche

According to the National Institutes of Health there has been an increase in antibiotic resistance, which has been deemed a “crisis” by many. The CDC states, “Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.”

How does antibiotic resistance occur?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develops the capacity to inactivate or exclude antibiotics or develop a mechanism to block the inhibitory or killing effects of antibiotics. The bacteria survives, continues to multiply and spread, and causes more harm.

Antibiotics are used in both human healthcare and on farms. None of us, including farmers, want to face a medical problem where an antibiotic is no longer useful because an infection is resistant to antibiotics. Unfortunately, just using an antibiotic causes resistance. So let’s look at how farmers use antibiotics.

Examining the use of antibiotics in farming.
Many farmers, like myself, use antibiotics when our animals become sick – as it’s our responsibility to give them the care they need. Antibiotics help maintain animal health and thus, a safe food supply. Giving antibiotics are one tool farmers and ranchers use in an overall plan of good production practices to raise healthy animals for a safe food supply and – in my opinion, may be the only moral and ethical way to help our animals.

Historically, farmers have used antibiotics three different ways:

1)   Therapeutic – used when animals are acutely sick

2)   Prophylactic – used in preventive measures

3)   Subtherapeutic – enhance animal growth

We use antibiotics therapeutically and prophylactically.

One major step the agricultural industry and government are taking is eliminating the use of antibiotics for growth purposes. As of January 1, 2017, farmers are prohibited from antibiotics subtherapeutically, in accordance to the FDA’s requirement that livestock animals not be given antibiotics for the purpose of enhancing animal growth.

Farmers don’t only use antibiotics to prevent animals from becoming ill. There are many other tools used, including vaccines, good nutrition programs, proper biosecurity measures, among many others. See a breakdown of those tools below.

Required antibiotic withdrawal periods.
If an animal is given an antibiotic, we are required to follow drug labels for dosage and withdrawals. Our record keeping system records what, why, when, where and how much of every antibiotic given. We also strictly follow drug withdrawal periods, which is the time between the last dosage and the time the animal goes to market. USDA meat inspectors are present at all meat packing facilities.

So what about regulations?

FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Directives 209 and 213

Starting January 1, 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) directives 209 and 213 will take effect. What does that mean?
1)   Antibiotics that are medically important (to human illness) will not be used for growth promotion in food animals.
2)   Antibiotics will only be available for therapeutic and prophylactic use – meaning to treat or prevent disease. Also required will be veterinarian        oversight.
3)   Feed grade antibiotics and water medications will require a veterinary feed directive—similar to a drug prescription.

Antibiotic resistance is a complex issue and any measures we can take as farmers to help this problem is welcomed by our industry. We embrace these changes. Our end goal is to raise a healthy and safe meat and we continually look for ways to improve our animal care methods and knowledge to reach that goal.   

To read the full blog and more from Wanda visit http://www.mnfarmliving.com/.

Wanda Patsche is part of U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance's Digital Voices Council. To learn more about the program and bloggers who participate, click here.