Misconceptions about antibiotic usage in agriculture

Colby Ferguson, director of government relations and Emily Solis, communications specialist at Maryland Farm Bureau share misconceptions about animal agriculture’s role in antibiotic resistance. To read the original post, click here.

There’s no arguing that antimicrobial resistance is a concern and something we should be cognizant of. The ability to treat a wide range of diseases and illnesses is an extremely valuable tool that we need to keep effective. Evidence shows that the true cause of antimicrobial resistance is human overuse and misuse. Furthermore, farmers have already taken serious steps to improve antibiotic stewardship.

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the 12 most dangerous superbugs. The Priority 1 superbugs, which are considered critical, are all resistant to carbapenem. The carbapenem class of antibiotics are not used in livestock – meaning the resistance has come from use in human medicine. Based on a 2017 stewardship report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 30% of all antibiotics prescribed in outpatient clinics and hospitals are unnecessary.

CDC combats antibiotic resistance

Differences in human and animal medicines

Another important point to make is that the most-used antimicrobials in livestock are severely different than those most-used to treat humans. The vast majority of antibiotics are either used in people or animals, but very rarely both. For instance, tetracycline is the most used class in animals at 41%, while it makes up just 4% of usage in humans – the vast majority of that use is in human acne cream. Penicillins are the most used in humans at 44%, but only comprise 6% of animal agriculture use. Ionophores which make up 30% of usage in animals are not used for human treatment.

antibiotics used in humans vs animals

Studies show that the most urgent antibiotic resistance threats are unrelated to livestock. There is a 1 in a billion chance of antibiotic treatment failure from resistance to common animal antibiotics. This means we are thousands of times more likely to die from a dog bite or lightning striking than from resistance related to animal agriculture. In addition, a December report from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that antibiotic usage in animal agriculture is greatly declining. The report outlines that sales and distribution of medically important antibiotics for use in livestock have declined by 33% between 2016 and 2017.

There’s a continued response that antibiotic usage in animal agriculture is unnecessary, but that is inaccurate. Animals are raised in conditions that promote health and wellness – but at some point they will become sick and potentially need treatment. While some companies and package labels are committing to zero antibiotic treatment, this does not share the full story. In truth, animals that were treated with antibiotics are simply marketed under a different name or label.

Antibiotics and food

Lastly, the concern of antibiotics in food and milk is non-existent. Meat producers that utilize antimicrobials for treatment follow strict withdrawal periods. These withdrawal times tell farmers when their animals can safely enter the food system as the antibiotics have safely passed through their system. Meat products are tested for antibiotic residues prior to entering the marketplace. Milk follows similar regulations and testing. Any animal treated with antibiotics will continue to have their milk tested until the results show it is free of the residues. Milk is dumped from those animals until it reaches that point. Milk tanks are also tested prior to being picked up for processing.

Solving instead of scapegoating

Unfairly blaming animal agriculture for antibiotic resistance will not help us solve this issue. Overuse and misuse of medically important antibiotics in human use is the number one reason for the increase in resistant bacteria in our environment. While it may be simpler to blame the agriculture industry, true improvements will not be made until we realize that human antibiotic use is the true concern. Animal agriculture is already making improvements in antibiotic stewardship. Now, it’s time for humans to do the same.

All posts are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of the Animal Ag Alliance.

Sustainability is more than a buzzword for farmers and ranchers

We’ve all heard the word sustainability, but what does it really mean? For farmers and ranchers, it’s a promise to future generations. A promise that they will care for the land, air, water and livestock in a way that ensures their children can take over the family business if they so choose.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance puts together a report every year spotlighting farmers and ranchers commitment to continuous improvement in animal care, responsible antibiotic use, environmental sustainability and food safety.

Here are a few key points from the 2017 report:

  • The health of broiler chickens in the U.S. continues to improve with scientific advancements in genetics, management and nutrition. As a result of these industry-adopted developments, quarterly mortality rates remain at historic lows. According to 2016 statistics, today’s mortality rate is 4.8 percent compared to 18 percent in 1925.
  • Hens under the United Egg Producers Certified program now account for 95 percent of all the nations laying hens and are independently audited annually based on guidelines recommended by a committee of world-renowned scientists in areas of food safety and animal behavior.
  • In turkeys, the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service reported Salmonella continued to decline to 1.7 percent in its most recent analysis updated in 2015. The turkey industry has continued to aggressively drive down the occurrence of Salmonella, to achieve the lowest count possible among raw poultry products.
  • The pork industry’s flagship education program for farmers and employees is the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus. As of March 2017, more than 63,000 farmers and farm employees were PQA Plus certified.
  • More than 80 percent of research funded by America’s beef producers is used throughout the beef supply chain on a daily basis to enhance the safety of beef and beef products.
  • The U.S. dairy industry conducts almost four million tests each year on all milk entering dairy plants. In 2017, only 0.011 percent of all milk tanker samples tested positive for residues of animal medications, indicating that efforts at detecting and deterring harmful drug residues in milk are effective. Those samples that tested positive were dumped and never reached the grocery store shelf.

Sustainability is more than a buzzword to farmers and ranchers. It is their promise to never stop giving food, fuel and fiber to families across our nation and around the world.

5 things to know about dairy farming

If you read my last blog post, you may know that I am a dairy cow person. Something about those black and white spots drew me in and I stuck around for the ice cream. During my collegiate studies, I have had the opportunity to meet and speak with some of the hardworking individuals who look over these cows and provide high-quality dairy products for American families. Here are five things to know about dairy farming:

1. Animal care is the first concern for dairy farmers.  

Animal well-being and care is the top priority in any production animal facility. Dairy farmers work hard to ensure that every animal receives the best 12442717_1081168835279252_1142547140_ntreatment. Calves grow up to become the cows that produce milk, so farmers make it a priority to get them off to a healthy start. Most dairy calves are moved into calf hutches – clean, dry individual pens that have ample space for the calf to freely move about – after birth and live there for the first three months. Each calf receives individual milk feedings while also having access to water and feed around the clock. Housing calves individually prevents disease between calves, allows the farmer to closely monitor each calf, and gives the calf a clean environment to live in.

Cow comfort is important to dairy farmers because comfortable cows are happy cows. Dairy farmers provide clean, dry bedding for their cows and access to food and water 24 hours a day. Farmers closely watch the herd to monitor each cow. Dairy producers are committed to providing quality animal care.

2. Dairy farmers work with veterinarians and other experts to provide the highest quality products and animal care.

The dairy industry works with veterinarians and other experts to establish guidelines for the proper care of dairy cows. The National Dairy FARM Program is a nationwide, verifiable animal well-being program that brings consistency and uniformity to on-farm animal care and production practices. The FARM program provides resources for farmers including materials on animal care, environmental stewardship and herd health. More than 90 percent of all the milk in the United States comes from farmers who have joined the FARM program. FARM promotes a culture of continuous improvement that inspires dairy farmers to do things even better every day.

3. Dairy farmers are committed to environmental stewardship

Dairy farmers live on or near the land that they farm. They understand the importance of protecting natural resources and that caring for the land, water and air is a responsibility they share with he local community. Dairy farmers work with experts to find ways to reduce their environmental footprint, conserve water and develop renewable energy sources. Dairy farmers can recycle manure as high quality fertilizer on the fields. Federal, state and local clean water laws regulate how manure is applied on cropland, so nutrients are absorbed by crops, not groundwater. Farmers can clean, recycle, and reuse dairy cow bedding. The dairy industry has significantly reduced the greenhouse gas emissions that goes along with making a gallon of milk and has voluntarily committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emission by another 25 percent by 2020. Dairy farmers know that the key to sustainability in agriculture is only reached by being responsible stewards of the environment.

4. All milk goes through strict quality controls to ensure safety.

Dairy farmers are committed to providing a safe, wholesome dairy products like cheese, milk and yogurt. Strict governmental standards ensure that both conventional and organic milk are wholesome, safe and nutritious, so you can feel confident in consuming all varieties of milk, cheese and yogurt. Milking equipment delivers milk directly from the cows in a refrigerated holding tank to preserve freshness and safety. The milk is then quickly transported to processing plants for continued freshness and safety. Did you know that every tank of milk in the United States is tested for antibiotics? In the unlikely event that milk tests positive for antibiotics, it is disposed of immediately and does not enter the food supply. All of these measures demonstrate dairy farmers’ commitment to providing safe and healthy products.

5. Milk is a nutritious part to any diet!


If you are a lucky calf, you can drink your milk and have your ice cream too!

Dairy is an important source of vital nutrients including calcium, vitamin A, phosphorus and protein. Dairy isn’t just milk, of course. Other dairy foods, such as yogurt and cheese, are packed with nutrients and vitamins that are part of a healthy lifestyle. For good health and essential nutrients, it is important to get your three servings of dairy everyday!

So go ahead and enjoy that glass of milk, cup of yogurt, slice of cheese or my favorite, scoop of ice cream. If you want to know more about the dairy community, visit www.dairygood.org!




Antibiotics and Animal Agriculture: a consumer’s perspective

I think that everyone probably thinks they have the best mom in the world, but I definitely do. My mom is a woman of many interests: art, music, cold-brewed coffee and football, just to name a few. Like most moms in America, she has always taken a particular interest in the food that her kids eat. When my mom was helping me move into my temporary place for the semester, she took me to the grocery store and made sure that I had healthy options easily available. Recently, she’s been encouraging me to really take notice of what is in the food I eat – and to always read the label.

Like I mentioned in my last blog post, I did not grow up on a farm. Before interning with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, I would consider myself a typical consumer. As a consumer, when I see labels like “Raised without Antibiotics” on a package of chicken in the grocery store, it seems natural for me to assume that the chicken without that label may contain antibiotic residues that could be harmful to me and the people with which I share my food. Throughout my time with the Alliance, though, I have learned a lot about antibiotics and their role in animal agriculture.

Precautions by the FDA and USDA

Consumers are concerned about the possibility of antibiotic residues in their meat, and it’s easy to understand why. The worry is that if humans consume antibiotic residues through the meat they eat, they may build a resistance to those antibiotics. Then next time they got sick, it would prevent the antibiotics they needed from properly treating the illness. This is a real concern, but luckily the FDA and the USDA have been working diligently to prevent antibiotic residues from ever entering the market. After an animal has been treated with antibiotics, the FDA mandates that producers must wait for the drug to completely leave the animal’s system before processing them. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service then tests meat, poultry, milk, and eggs for trace amounts of any drugs present in products before they ever reach the market. It’s also important to note that there is very little overlap between antibiotics that are used in humans and antibiotics that are used in animal agriculture.  Meat Mythcrushers has a great article about antibiotic overlap.

Antibiotics for growth promotion are being phased out.

One thing that even I can admit to thinking as a consumer is, “Sure, sick animals need treated. I get that. But I’ve heard that animal farmers will give antibiotics to their animals just to bulk them up, and that seems dangerous and irresponsible to me.” Well, rest assured! In 2013, the FDA requested meat producers to phase out antibiotics for growth promotion by 2016 – and the industry supported the FDA’s decision.

Even animals that are given the best care possible could still get sick.

Another claim that I’ve heard is that if farmers were taking proper care of their animals, they wouldn’t even need antibiotics in the first place. I wish that were true, but unfortunately animals just get sick sometimes even if they have received the best care possible, which farmers work hard to provide. The North American Meat Association has a resource that really helped me understand this better. We take care of ourselves, but we still get sick and require antibiotics from time to time. Our pets do, too – and I know that many of us treat our pets as members of the family. The use of antibiotics in animal agriculture isn’t a sign of mistreatment; it’s actually a sign that farmers are paying attention to their animals’ well-being and giving them the medicine that they need to get better.

That said, there are farmers and food companies who have committed to raising animals without the use of any antibiotics. You may have heard “no antibiotics ever” or “raised without antibiotics” as ways to describe this production method. These farmers are just as committed to ensuring animal health. They will avoid the use of antibiotics as much as possible, but as I mentioned above sometimes animals will need treatment. If an animal requires an antibiotic to get better, it will receive the treatment it needs, and then be separated from the “no antibiotics ever” herd or flock and marketed through a different channel. Having different options helps farmers choose what works best for them, their animals and their farms, and benefits the consumer by offering a choice in the grocery store.

Ask questions – and find answers.

To be totally honest, I’m not sure that if I hadn’t accepted my internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance I would have ever researched or looked into the concerns that I had heard about the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. It was very easy to accept the things that were buzzing around without a second thought. So, some advice from a fellow consumer: do your own research and make up your own mind before accepting what you’ve heard online or through word of mouth as truth. And to all the moms out there (including mine), antibiotics in meat are one thing that you can take off of your plate!