by George Looby

In the year that has passed since the use of antibiotics in food animals has been restricted to the treatment of those whose health needs required use, there has been ever-increasing support of the program. Early on the enforcement of regulations was left to the FDA, the enforcement agency, the livestock producers and their veterinarians. Over time it became apparent that organizations dependent on the purchase, distribution and sale of meat products had a vested interest in this program.

It was the consumer who relied on the supply chain to be as free of contaminants as possible. The players who make up the supply chain decided to finally assist in ensuring the appropriate use of antibiotics on the farm. This group was not limited to major food companies, retailers, livestock producers and professional organizations. This diverse group was moderated in their discussions by the Farm Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trust.

The Farm Foundation is an agricultural policy institute whose goal is to catalyze robust debate to ensure informed policy decisions on issues as they relate to all things agricultural in nature. The foundation brings together leaders in farming, business, academia, organizations and government to discuss issues facing the agricultural community and hopefully coming up with answers to complex issues. It is privately funded with contributions from support groups, from individuals to corporations.

The Pew Charitable Trust has a mission of providing change for the good in a host of problem areas that impact human well being. Appropriate antibiotic use has long been recognized as an important issue by the trust.

Among the organizations and corporations that have joined forces to promote and encourage the appropriate use of antibiotics in food producing animals are several well recognized names, including Elanco Animal Health, Hormel Foods, Jennie-O Turkey Store, McDonald’s, the National Milk Producers Federation, the National Pork Board, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Turkey Federation, Smithfield Foods Inc., Tyson Foods, Walmart and Zoetis.

This diverse group agrees that the use of medically important antibiotics must be carefully managed to slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and preserve their effectiveness. The group of organizations that form this oversight organization have pledged to provide effective stewardship to meet its stated goals.

Kathy Talkington, who directs the Pew Foundation’s antibiotic resistance project, stated antibiotic stewardship is essential to protecting human and animal health, ensuring food safety and security and combating antibiotic resistance. These are issues that consumers increasingly care about when making their purchasing decisions. She added that the organizations making up this group represent the food animal supply chain from the farm to the table and that they recognize the need for a program everyone can understand and trust.

Several components make up the antibiotic oversight program, each contributing in its own way to its success. Veterinarians must endorse, support and monitor the proper and recommended use of antibiotics on the farm and in the feedlot. The most current and effective disease prevention strategies must be employed. New and innovative treatment protocols must be put into place to ensure herd health is maintained while also posing no risk to the consumer. Effective record keeping can do much to ensure all treatments are carefully recorded and possible lapses detected early.

The group has some basic principles that must be applied to ensure the program has a clear scientific basis, is transparent, minimizes the risk of unintended consequences, encourages the use of alternatives to antibiotics and focuses on long term sustainability – attainable goals if all of the entities involved have a common goal and convince all those involved in the supply chain that the recommended steps are for the common good.

There is an understanding among those involved in this food chain that its recommendations are based on sound science and it will be to the benefit of all when everyone accepts its principles.

When American consumers embrace a concept that ensures the products they are purchasing come from the team that encourages and supports appropriate use of antibiotics in the food animal system, only good things can follow.