Medical experts discuss antibiotic usage

By Kristin Merony

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2012 - One of the biggest challenges in an absence of data on antibiotic usage is that people have grossly overestimated antimicrobial usage in animals, said Michigan State University Professor and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Julie Funk during a roundtable discussion facilitated by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) today. 

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“Usage is actually much less than what has been suggested,” she said.

The USFRA roundtable hosted medical experts to discuss how and why antibiotics are used on the farm, as well as consumers' misconceptions about antibiotics in the food supply. 

“What you really need to be concerned about is that antimicrobials are used judiciously, when needed and used appropriately,” she said. “Even if you wanted to use them as a crutch, it is not efficacious, and producers would quickly go out of business.”

Licensed dietitian Melissa Joy Dobbins provided the consumer perspective toward antibiotics, recognizing that “patients, clients of all walks of life, especially women and moms, are concerned about antibiotics in food.”

“Today, I still see a lot of confusion. As dieticians we need more information so we can understand it better and know what to tell the consumers,” Dobbins said. 

 “We need more dialogue, more facts, getting closer to production, hearing directly from veterinarians, farmers, and producers in order to give consumers the tools to make their decisions,” she added.

Dobbins said there are several consumer misconceptions about antibiotic use in the food supply, especially for meat and milk. When it comes to choosing between conventionally or organically produced milk, she said consumers often choose organic milk because its “antibiotic free.”

Dobbins said she needs to continually explain that there are no antibiotics in any milk because sick animals are removed from production to ensure that residues do not enter the food supply.    

Addressing this popular misconception about antibiotic residues, Funk explained withdrawal times, the time between the time of treatment and reentering the food supply, stressing “the rate of residues in our meat and milk is almost zero, making the risk to public health zero as well.”

Commenting on the recent focus on antibiotic resistance, Funk said that it is natural and is a salient concern for all human and animal medical professionals. 

“The good thing from a food supply perspective is that if you cook your food and handle it appropriately, you will not be exposed to these bacteria,” Funk said while highlighting the importance of food safety.

 “Let's not get mired down in the scientific issues with consumers,” Dobbins added. “At the end of the day, food safety is the bottom line, and you can address the residue and antibiotic resistance from that standpoint too.”

“Even in the best situation, we need to use antimicrobials to treat ill animals, the perfect environment will still require antibiotics,” Funk said. “It is not right to not be able to treat animals that are in need - it is not a reasonable endpoint.”


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