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The Future of Antibiotic Use in Beef Production

by:- Wyatt Bechtel


Antibiotics have been a hot button issue for consumers, policy makers and livestock producers for the past few years because of discussions like antimicrobial restraint bacteria and non-antibiotic labeling.

Most people don’t remember a time without antibiotics says Brian Lubbers, DVM and director of clinical microbiology at the Kansas State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Less than 100 years ago non-antibiotic remedies to treat livestock ailments were concocted using ingredients like nutmeg, ginger and iron.

“When we talk about the possibility of a world without antibiotics realize that has existed, and we may not be that far away from that in the future, if we’re not careful,” Lubbers says.

Lubbers spoke about the shift towards raising cattle without antibiotics and the issue of antimicrobial resistance at the Alltech ONE Conference in Lexington, Kentucky on May 20.

Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Guidance 209 and 2013, which includes the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), were fully implemented in 2017 and since then the use of antimicrobials has been on the decline in livestock production.

Contributing to that drop in antibiotic use has also been a retailer trend in marketing products that came from animals never treated with antibiotics. Major restaurant chains like Subway, Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill have led the charge in marketing products like antibiotic free chicken. Just this past year McDonald’s announced that it was targeting a goal of sourcing beef from cattle that have not been treated with medically important antibiotics.

Lubber’s believes the goals of antimicrobial stewardship in livestock should be to:

Improve patient outcomesMinimize harm to individuals, populations and communitiesOptimize financial resourcesPreserve availability and effectiveness of antimicrobials

“Really, what we’re trying to do is make sure that as a prescriber, again veterinarian or human, that in the future I have access and I have effective antimicrobials at my disposal,” Lubbers says.

However, antimicrobial stewardship isn’t a one size fits all situation. Not all systems of raising cattle have the same types of disease challenges, Lubbers says. Weather, location, type and age of cattle will all have impacts on what diseases are being dealt with and the type of antimicrobial needed. A framework that has some flexibility for these differing variables would have to be able to address those different needs.

Another challenge is data collection regarding antibiotic use, making monitoring of specific antibiotics nearly impossible. Many cattle producers in the U.S. still do not have electronic record keeping and there is no standardized traceability system.

“When you start looking at the thousands of operations across the United States, and even more globally, and trying to put that into some sort of common format, it will not work,” Lubbers says of antimicrobial monitoring.

There could be further policy moves that limit antibiotic use in the future says Lubbers. He points to the FDA’s Supporting Antimicrobial Stewardship in Veterinary Settings: Goals for Fiscal Years 2019-2023 which could lead to over the counter products requiring a veterinarian’s prescription for purchase.

The outline set by FDA also paves the way for further education of veterinarians to ensure microbial stewardship while also implementing surveillance of antimicrobial use on farms.

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