A New Normal For Antibiotics in Livestock Production


Neil Conklin

Consumer resistance and government regulations are forcing livestock producers to change the way they use antibiotics.  FDA regulations set to go into effect in 2016 will limit what antibiotics livestock producers will be able to use. In addition, major retail chains have already announced they are changing their requirements on the use of these drugs in meat production. As a result, the Farm Foundation has launched an initiative to encourage producers to voluntarily reduce or eliminate the use of certain antibiotics in their production systems. Farm Foundation President Neil Conklin told HAT the success of achieving this goal, for both public health and the economic health of animal agriculture, hinges on producers having access to the information they need to adjust production practices and on the capacity of veterinarians to provide the additional oversight needed, “This is the new normal being driven by regulatory and market forces. The good news is that producers are adjusting,” stated Conklin.

Conklin says the purpose of the program is to help producers make the adjustments that will be required while still maintaining a profitable livestock operation. Over the next six months, Farm Foundation will convene 10 regional meetings with livestock producers and veterinarians across the country. The intent is to help producers and veterinarians gain a comprehensive understanding of the FDA GFIs and to help regulators understand the challenges of implementing these practices.

“The clock is ticking on the phase-in period. As an organization respected for its objectivity, Farm Foundation is well positioned to quickly respond to this need and draw relevant and diverse stakeholder groups to the table for constructive discussions,” Conklin said. “Voluntary adoption of practices to ensure the appropriate or judicious use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals.” Increased veterinary oversight on the use of antimicrobials is addressed in FDA’s GFI 213. Most recently, FDA has proposed amendments to its Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) that would require producers to have veterinary approval for the use of medically-important antibiotics in feed. He added that this program will also provide assurance to consumers and public officials that farmers are seriously addressing this issue and making the changes that are needed.

Conklin pointed out that the proper use of antibiotics in livestock production is an important issue for both producers and consumers, “The issue of antibiotic resistance is not just a human issue but an animal health issue as well. We need to protect these drugs for the treatment of animal health issues as well as consumer issues.”  He said pharmaceutical manufacturers are also working on new technology that will provide the tools that producers need without endangering human health concerns.

The Farm Foundation regional meetings will begin this summer at locations across the country. Feedback gained in these meetings will be used to compile a report assessing the economic and physical challenges farmers and ranchers will face in implementing FDA’s GFIs. Informational and educational needs will also be evaluated, as well as the role of veterinarians in monitoring and managing antimicrobial use.

The Farm Foundation report will be the focus of a summit to be convened by Farm Foundation in late fall 2015. This will be an opportunity for farmers, ranchers, academics and government agency staff to discuss options to address the issues identified in the regional meetings.

Yet, monitoring the use of antibiotics will be difficult. FDA and USDA officials admit they currently do not have a good system in place.  Conklin says the answer is not to ban all antibiotics, but to use them judiciously.

Farm Foundation, NFP works as a catalyst for sound public policy by providing objective information to foster a deeper understanding of issues shaping the future for agriculture, food systems and rural regions. The Foundation does not advocate or lobby. Since its founding in 1933, Farm Foundation has been committed to objectivity, fostering the constructive debate that is essential to sound public policy development in a democracy.