Three Things to Remember about Animal Antibiotics

Many of you may have seen the recent PBS Frontline segment titled “Trouble with Antibiotics.”  I can understand why one might have more questions than answers about the use of animal antibiotics and antibiotic resistance.

Here are a few things you should remember about animal antibiotics and antibiotic resistance.

First:  Just like humans, animals get sick, and antibiotics are judiciously used to treat sick animals.  Antibiotics are also used to control and prevent disease, in order to keep healthy animals entering the food supply.  In addition, milk and meat from animals that received antibiotics can only be marketed after enough time has passed (as determined by the FDA) to ensure the antibiotic has sufficiently cleared the animal’s system.

Second:  It’s difficult to link “bugs” that emerge on the farm to the family dinner table.  As Dr. Christine Hoang of the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) noted in the segment, “We really have not shown that direct pathway” from antibiotic use in animals to a drug-resistant infection in humans.

Third:  Antibiotic resistance is a complex problem with no simple solution.  According to Mike Doyle, PhD, Regents Professor in Microbiology at Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, “The antibiotic resistance issue is a global problem that cannot be solved by the USA and/or the EU alone.”  There’s no one single root cause of antibiotic resistance – whether use for animals on the farm, or human use when appropriately prescribed by physicians. It’s an issue that’s complex, and it requires a collaborative approach to resolve.

Next time you read an article about antibiotics, especially in regards to animal agriculture, remember these three tips to better understand their use and the complexities of antibiotic resistance.


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