ATLANTA – It’s difficult for consumers to understand antibiotic use in the livestock and poultry industry because, simply put – it is a complex issue, explained Prof. Charles (Chuck) Hofacre, Univ. of Georgia, professor of the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center, Athens, Ga., during a session titled “Antibiotic Use in the Livestock and Poultry Industry: Principles of Judicious Use.” Hofacre gave his presentation during the 2015 International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta. 

 Prof. Charles Hofacre

While a polarizing debate continues regarding the potential for antibiotic resistance transfer between animals and humans, antibiotic use in food animals is sometimes necessary — otherwise sick food animals will suffer and die.

“Antibiotics are natural substances and resistance is present before we discovered antibiotics,” Hofacre said. “The use of antibiotics doesn’t cause resistance, antibiotic resistance is not antibiotic residue — and using antibiotics doesn’t make you a bad person.”

Antibiotics are used to treat disease, to help prevent disease and in intestinal health/growth promotion — the latter of which causes the most concern among anti-antibiotic proponents.

“Many current research studies show that high doses may select strongly for resistance and spread of resistant-advantage to resistant populations,” one of Hofacre's slides relayed. “Low doses for growth and disease prevention have reduced effects.”

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Guidance Document #120 Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) states: “Control is critical to reducing unnecessary use of such drugs in animals and to slowing or preventing any potential for the development of bacterial resistance to antimicrobial drugs.” A VFD is a written statement issued by a licensed veterinarian...that orders the use of a VFD drug in or on animal feed.

Under one proposed VFD requirement, to be included regarding antibiotic use in a food animal includes: contact information for veterinarians and their clients; the premises at which the animals specified in the VFD are located; date of VFD issuance; the name of the animal drug and other detailed information such as level of drug and duration of use and re-orders.

What is the future use of antibiotic use in food animals? Hofacre suggested in his presentation that the use of medically important antibiotics should be limited to those animals that need to ensure animal health.

Solutions to drug resistance include alternatives to antibiotics; prevention of animal diseases through more research funding; more effective vaccines; continued cooperation between government and the pharmaceutical industry and food-animal producers; and cooperation between the FDA and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Close monitoring of antibiotics given to food animals must begin today. “How much antibiotics do we use in food animals? No one really knows,” Hofacre confided. “Industry needs data to be able to refute charges and claims that [antibiotics are being used in excess]. We will continue to argue that 80 percent of antibiotic use is in food animals unless we find a way to all work together.” And expect more legislation if industry continues to ignore consumer, political and activists’ concerns, he added.

Dr. Bernadette Dunham, director of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said the US will continue to use antibiotics in food animals. “[This] will result in name changes for some uses and require greater veterinary oversight,” she said. “This is being done to enhance both animal health and human health.”