At the end of December, the FDA released a first-of-its-kind report on the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. In issuing the report, the FDA said: “For the first time the report provides the agency and the American public with concrete data that are important for supporting efforts to track antimicrobial use trends and to examine how such trends relate to antimicrobial resistance.”

Thankfully, the FDA has deferred requests to compare or analyze this first round of now-annual data, which tracks the quantity of antimicrobials used in all livestock sectors and all dosage forms, to other less comprehensive data sets that already exist. But you can bet they will be doing just that when the next report is released December 2011.

For the past couple of years, the use of antibiotics in livestock production has been a topic of discussion. Remember this time last year …2-to-1 doses of NeoTerra medicated milk replacer were banned from further production. That was just the beginning. The wolf is at the door now.

Supporters for abolition of or, at a minimum, decreased use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals see black-and-white uses for antimicrobials. They see only therapeutic and non-therapeutic use. They would ban all non-therapeutic use and strictly regulate therapeutic use.

Legislation that would do precisely that will be introduced in the state of New York soon. The bill would make non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials a misdemeanor offense.


However, the current regulatory landscape for antimicrobial use is more Technicolor. The FDA currently regulates antibiotics in food-producing animals in four use classes (i.e., therapeutic, control, prevention and growth promotion).

The FDA’s new report does not track antimicrobial use by label classification or the amounts used in specific livestock sectors, although these could be inferred to some extent.

So debate in the future will still be about which drugs are most important to control in order to combat antimicrobial resistance (all versus just some) and what classifications of drug use (non-therapeutic versus, say, just growth promotion) should they be prohibited from being prescribed. It is likely that in the future some specific uses of antimicrobials may be limited or curtailed, similar to what happened with medicated milk replacers.

In the meantime, many innovators are looking for natural, non-medicated solutions to decrease use of antimicrobials. It is interesting to me that two of the products chosen as top products by World Ag Expo aim to decrease the use of antibiotics necessary to treat uterine and hoof health issues. Check out the top new product reviews .

A related topic to antimicrobial resistance issues is antibiotic residues in meat. Recent data shows that these residues have been increasingly found on slaughter floors. Since last year the USDA has been releasing weekly lists of number of violations and violators.

You don’t want to end up on that list. Increasing residue violations do not help any livestock producers defend the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals.

But who should take ownership for residue policing? That is the question we ask in this issue’s poll . Read commentary from the beef, dairy and veal industries in this and upcoming issues.

In the coming months, as we discuss this topic in more detail, I hope we consider more carefully the benefits afforded by having antimicrobials available for use in livestock production and get more serious about defending their fair use. PD