A debate about the use of antibiotics in food animals has
been ongoing for some time. On Dec. 11, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration announced steps to address one approach to the antimicrobial
resistance in human medicine.
These new rules do not eliminate the use of antibiotics in
food animals. However, livestock producers will need to do some things
differently than in the past.
“While it’s going to be challenging, it won’t destroy the
industry,” stressed Jim Pettigrew, University of Illinois Department of Animal
Sciences professor emeritus.
The rules only apply to food-producing animals. Companion
animals are not included.
In addition, the rules address the use of antibiotics in
feed and drinking water. Antibiotics given by injection are not included.
“These rules only apply to medically important antibiotics
in human medicine, and that list includes most of the antibiotics currently used
in animal production, but not all of them,” Pettigrew said. “It does not include
Ionophores, Carbadox, Bacitracins and Flavomycins.”
The professor outlined key elements of the new
“The FDA says there will be no use of medically important
antibiotics in food-producing animals for production purposes such as growth
promotion or improvement of feed efficiency,” he said. “However, these
antibiotics can be used for disease prevention.”
It will be somewhat difficult for the industry to separate
these two uses.
“We have good evidence that when we use antibiotics for
growth promotion, we have obtained some disease prevention,” Pettigrew said.
“Now we have to be more clear about the purpose of the use of
Using an antibiotic for disease prevention, he said, assumes
that there is a specific disease identified that will cause problems on that
farm unless the antibiotic is used.
“The rules also say all use of medically important
antibiotics in food-producing animals should be under veterinary supervision or
oversight,” he said. “The FDA put a great deal of responsibility on the
veterinary profession for the application of these new rules.”
Veterinarians will make the determination whether there is a
specific disease that justifies the use of an antibiotic as a
“It is important for the animal producer and veterinarian to
work closely together, and in many cases, that already happens,” Pettigrew said.
“These new rules are pushing us in the direction of a closer relationship
between animal producers and veterinarians.”
FDA has set a target of full implementation of the new rules
in three years.
“You do not have to make major changes next week. The
changes will occur in an orderly manner throughout the next three years,”
He stressed that antibiotics are not a herd or flock health
“They’re important tools, but there are lots of other
tools,” he said.
“We have a lot of work to do in three years,” Pettigrew
said. “But we don’t have to panic about something that has to be done in the
next few days.”