Did you see this? In case you’re feeling extra tired on this Tuesday and don’t want to click the link, I’ll explain.
As a farm girl and Illinois Farm Bureau member and employee, I’m familiar with the concerns consumers have regarding antibiotic resistance. And, I have to say, they’re concerned for good reason. After all, no one wants to go to the doctor and be diagnosed with a disease only to find out that there are no longer any antibiotics effective against it.
This concern has left many consumers blaming farmers for overusing antibiotics and livestock production for the documented antibiotic resistance. It makes sense, but is it the truth?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it isn’t. In fact, in a Sept. 16 report released by the CDC, the main culprit is antibiotic overuse in hospitals.
According to the CDC, the most urgent threats are posed by antibiotic-resistant infections that have emerged in hospitals, as a result of heavy antibiotic use there. These include infections with Klebsiella and E.coli bacteria that are resistant to every known antibiotic.
“Right now, the most acute problem is in hospitals,” said Tom Frieden, the CDC’s director, in a conference call with reporters. “The most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings because of poor anti-microbial stewardship among humans.”
That’s not to say, however, that the CDC dismissed antibiotic use on farms. In fact, Frieden said that any widespread use of antibiotics does increase the risk that the drugs will become less and less effective.
So, where do farmers stand on this issue? At the very least, how are they working to ensure that the antibiotics you and I use are still effective when we need them? Here’s how:
- Before beef, pork or milk is sent to grocery stores or restaurants, it is tested and inspected by the Food Safety Inspection Service to make sure there are no antibiotic residues.
- Farmers treat sick animals with antibiotics because it is humane and the right thing to do. But antibiotics are expensive, and they only use them when necessary. Plus, they follow the strict withdrawal times for animals given antibiotics. As an example, a dairy cow has to wait until the antibiotic clears her system before she re-enters the milking herd. Beef cattle and pigs also have to wait to be sold to the market until all antibiotics have cleared their systems.
- Farmers only give animals antibiotics under the guidance of a veterinarian. Just like a doctor advises you on dosage and the amount of time to take a medication, veterinarians do the same with farmers’ animals.
- The FDA does not approve the use of antibiotics until they undergo a vigorous review for safety to animals, humans, and the environment. The FDA approval process ensures that food products from animals treated with antibiotics are safe.
- Farm organizations have procedures and programs in place to help farmers use antibiotics safely. For example, the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program, which emphasizes judicious and strategic use of antibiotics, has been in place since 1989.
- Antibiotics are important in animal medicine, just like in human medicine, helping to maintain animal health and reduce suffering from disease. When you calculate the number and size of food-producing animals, the use of antibiotics in animals approximates the use of antibiotics in humans.