Using antimicrobials safely

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Cattle, sheep and goat producers along with veterinarians understand the need for effective antimicrobials and vaccines for the health of their herds. Animal drugs are carefully regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to protect the food supply from residues in meat and milk. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection and Service  conducts tests for chemicals—including antibiotics and various other drugs, pesticides and environmental chemicals—in meat, poultry and egg products destined for human consumption. Despite this high level of public health protection, there is a new push from the FDA to reduce the development of resistance to medically important antimicrobials that are widely used in food animal production.  

So how can you help keep antimicrobials effective? The answer lies within the National Beef Quality Assurance program guidelines for judicious use of antimicrobials. Briefly, there are four main components to this plan: Avoid using antimicrobials that are important in human medicine. Use a narrow spectrum of antimicrobials whenever possible, which means identifying the offending bacteria and determining which antimicrobials work best against that particular organism. Treat the fewest number of animals possible. Anti-microbial use should be limited to disease control and prevention and not used as a means to improve performance.

It is important to remember that usage of any drug in a manner different from the directions printed on the label by a producer is illegal under U.S. law. However, if you have a valid relationship with your veterinarian, he or she can adjust these directions if the health and well-being of your animal or group of animals is threatened. The FDA recognizes a “veterinary-client-patient-relationship” as valid only if three specific conditions are met. First, a licensed veterinarian must assume responsibility for treating the animal or animals in question, and the owner must agree to follow the veterinarian’s instructions. Second, the veterinarian must be personally acquainted with the keeping and care of animals on that farm by visiting the premises. Last, the veterinarian must be available for follow-up in case of emergency or treatment failure.  

Developing practical strategies to address antimicrobial resistance concerns while maintaining the ability to use these in food animals will require a continuing cooperative effort between the FDA, animal health companies, producers, veterinarians and all other stakeholders. Talk to your veterinarian to learn what you can do to be part of the solution.

Periodically, throughout the year, the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service conducts Beef Quality Assurance certification programs for interested livestock producers. BQA certification is also required for all producers participating in Phase I Agricultural Development programs and for beef producers participating in Certified Pre-conditioned for Health (CPH) sales. For more information, contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service at 502-255-7188.  

Source: Michelle Arnold, UK ruminant extension veterinarian

Michael Pyles is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for agriculture.