Putting Antibiotic Use In Perspective

I’ve been busy learning how viruses travel the globe in contaminated feed and how we can try to prevent pigs from getting sick in the first place - we’ll have more about these topics in the future. Recently, I did a little reading on the topic of antibiotic use/antimicrobial resistance in food animals and found a few articles that were both interesting and concerning. Here is what I learned:

1. Maryland has become the second state (after California) to ban routine use of antibiotics in livestock. “Routine use” can be defined as use in animals that are not sick or for the prevention of disease. An example of routine use is administration of antibiotics shortly after birth, when new piglets are stressed and most vulnerable to infection.

2. European pig farmers continue to push to limit per-pig antibiotic use to a predetermined amount. In other words, there will be regulations limiting the amount of medicine that would be available to treat sick animals. As a veterinarian who took an oath to care for sick animals, this is worrisome, for several reasons:

     A. Many European pig farmers raise pigs outside. Because it is impossible to “clean the dirt,” the bacterial challenge (and the subsequent need for antibiotics) to pigs raised in this type of environment would be much greater than pigs raised in barns that are cleaned and disinfected on a regular basis; like ours.

     B. I am not sure where the predetermined number for approved antibiotic use will be derived from. I am concerned about the potential for not treating an illness well enough to completely eliminate it, which would actually promote antimicrobial resistance; much like my medical doctor scolding me for not having my daughter finish the entire bottle of medicine for an ear infection.

     C. As a veterinarian, I prefer to focus on and practice “responsible use” instead of focusing only on “reduced use.” This involves obtaining a proper diagnosis, selecting an appropriate antibiotic to treat the infection, administering the correct dose for the correct period of time, and following the stated withdrawal period. We believe this is the most responsible and judicious way to use antibiotics in food animals, not trying to compete on “how low can we go.”

3. A new antibiotic might be in the works! Scientists from Rutgers University have discovered a new antibiotic called “pseudouridimycin,” which comes from a bacteria in soil. This new drug works on bacteria differently than current products, thereby reducing the development of resistance. Very exciting! While this won’t happen overnight, I am encouraged by the search and advancement for better tools to treat infections, and allow us to provide the best care to animals while we continue to ensure responsible use for families and communities.

I can’t wait to see what’s next!