Antibiotics and Animal Health
Joan Ruskamp and her husband, Steve, have raised cattle in Dodge, Nebraska for more than 30 years. Here, she shares her story about antibiotic use in food animals and the responsibility that comes with raising healthy, safe beef for families like yours.Play Video
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What are Antibiotics and Antimicrobials?
Antimicrobials are products that kill microorganisms, like bacteria, viruses and fungi, or prevent them from growing. Antibiotics are a sub-category of antimicrobials and are primarily used to kill and prevent the growth of bacteria. 1
Why Do Farmers Give Antibiotics to Livestock?
Maintaining animal health is essential for ensuring a safe and secure food supply. Veterinarians and farmers use antibiotics in animals for the same reason doctors use antibiotics in people: to treat and control diseases. The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine reports that the appropriate use of antibiotics reduces the risk of unhealthy animals entering our food supply.
Farmers work with their veterinarians to ensure they are judicious in their use of all drugs in animals. The FDA evaluates and regulates the use of medicated feeds in food-producing animals to prevent harmful effects on both animal and human health. 1
Do Food Animals Receive Most of the Antibiotics Used in the U.S.?
Antibiotics opponents often cite a statistic that says food animals receive 80 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. However, these figures use two sets of data that were collected using different methodology, as explained in a letter from the FDA.
In fact, the Animal Health Institute (AHI) says that people and their pets use 10 times more antibiotics than animals in livestock production. 1
Are There Antibiotics in Meat?
The FDA does not allow retailers to sell meat with traces of antibiotics above strict safety limits. The FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations require specific withdrawal times—a set number of days that must pass between the last antibiotic treatment and the animal entering the food supply. 1
The FSIS also performs scheduled, but random, testing of meat nationwide to ensure no antibiotics are present above the limits set by the FDA.
Are There Antibiotics in Milk?
Milk and dairy products are among the most regulated foods in this country. The U.S. dairy industry conducts more than 3.3 million tests each year on all milk entering dairy plants to ensure that antibiotics are kept out of the milk supply.
According to the most recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data, less than one out of every 3,000 tanker trucks tests positive for any animal drug residues, including antibiotics. In those rare cases, any milk that tests positive is disposed of immediately and does not get into the food supply.
The milk-testing system provides dairy farmers strong incentives to keep their milk free of antibiotics. Any milk that tests positive for antibiotics is immediately dumped. In such cases, the farmer responsible for the milk is required to pay for the full tanker of milk.1
Does Giving Antibiotics to Livestock Cause Antimicrobial Resistance and Other Threats to Human Health?
Antibiotic resistance is a global health concern that everyone who uses antibiotics takes seriously. Medical doctors are working to reduce antibiotic use in humans. Veterinarians oversee which antibiotics are used to treat, prevent and control disease. Plus, they work with farmers to ensure the medicines are used responsibly. The AHI indicates that outbreaks of resistant foodborne pathogens have been reported, but very few have been traced back to the farm. 1
For example, studies from Purdue University found no proof linking MRSA in pigs to the pathogen in humans. It also found that humans are more likely to spread the disease among themselves and to animals than they are to contract it from hogs. 2
Have Other Countries Banned the Use of Antibiotics in Food Production?
In 1999, Denmark banned the use of antibiotics in food animals, and a 2002 World Health Organization report stated that the ban did not have any significant effect on clinically resistant human diseases. It also did not reduce antibiotic resistance in humans. However, the rates of disease and death among hogs did rise. 1