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Why do ranchers give antibiotics to their cattle? Click to find out.

New Easy-to-Digest Quarterly:

Beef & Antibiotics: Facts, Figures and Fundamentals

This issue: Preventing Illegal Antibiotic Residues in Beef Products 

By Brian Lubbers, DVM, PhD, DACVCP

The prevention of illegal antibiotic residues is a continuous, coordinated effort between government agencies, veterinarians, and livestock producers that begins before the antibiotics is ever used in animals. READ MORE

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Antibiotics in Poultry Requires Ethical Dialouge

By Gary Thornton

Do poultry and meat producers often make the wrong arguments for the use of antibiotics in their flocks and herds? Possibly so, and this is reflected in public opinion.

National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) white paper in 2011 noted longstanding perceptions, misperceptions, and beliefs among consumers and consumer groups about the animal agriculture industry:

  • “Antibiotics are used indiscriminately on the farm, with minimal oversight of either veterinarians or FDA.”
  • “Antibiotics given to animals will end up in the food and possibly jeopardize my family’s health.”
  • “Using antibiotics on the farm contributes to the creation of resistant pathogens that threaten health.”

Consumer perceptions frame public policy, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)'s Veterinary Feed Directive being implemented in 2016 is a regulatory beginning in response to such concerns, which on their face are over-simplifications of complex issues that won’t be resolved with simplistic approaches.

Antibiotics metrics only part of the story

Speaking at the NIAA Antibiotics Symposium November 3, 2015, Mike Apley, veterinarian and professor at Kansas State University, pointed to the need for animal agriculture to engage in a social and ethical dialogue with consumers about the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals.

Referring to the potential for an over-reliance on merely cutting overall antibiotic usage in food production animals, Apley said, “The thing about the metrics [of antibiotic usage] is that to just see the numbers reported in the newspaper and draw conclusions is completely inappropriate.”

So what is the answer when the scientific data about the use of antibiotics in poultry and other food animals is complex and the implications are not always clear-cut?

Going forward, the dialogue with consumers and stakeholders about antibiotics in poultry and meat must include more than science and data. The dialogue with consumers must include social and ethical dimensions.

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