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BC Democrat Online - Las Animas, CO
  • More livestock antibiotic restrictions likely

  • Livestock antibiotic use will become increasingly restrictive as the Food and Drug Administration and consumer interest groups push to curb it, according to Mike Apley, a professor of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University.
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  • HUTCHINSON, Kan. — Livestock antibiotic use will become increasingly restrictive as the Food and Drug Administration and consumer interest groups push to curb it, according to Mike Apley, a professor of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University.
    “Within four to five years, every antibiotic we put in the feed or water is going to be a prescription product,” Apley told cattlemen in Western Kansas recently. “That means a vet will have to write an approval.”
    Only about 17 percent of the nation’s vets work in food animal medicine, according to the American Veterinary Medicine Association, with shortages reported in many rural areas. But that is only one of many potential challenges that worry livestock producers.
    Veterinarians already are required to dispense the most effective and popular animal health products.
    “What I see as a longer term problem is that when you give a shot on your farm, you’re going to have to report it,” said Perry Owens, manager of the Ottawa County Feedyard of Minneapolis, Kan.
    Apley explained that vets increasingly have their hands tied when it comes to prescribing products for off-label use or changing a drug regimen to respond to a new disease.
    “They are taking away some very sound drugs and the ability of your practitioner to use it in cases where it would be very beneficial to use,” Owens added.
    Dispensing low-level antibiotics in livestock feed has been going on for at least 50 years, not only for purposes of promoting faster growth and preventing disease but also as a way to increase feed efficiency, an increasingly important attribute when feed costs soar.
    But the debate over routine use of low-dose antibiotics in agriculture has been gaining steam as well. Some groups believe non-therapeutic drug regimens are too often substituted for healthier, lower stress animal production methods. Many fear the practice is contributing to the development of “super bugs” in humans that are increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment.
    In response, FDA is moving to rein in agricultural use.
    “I’m highly concerned, because I don’t think they are using sound science to back up what they are doing,” Owens said.
    That point was driven home to him when he attended a conference where experts on both sides of the issue were quoting from the same European studies to support their conclusions.
    Antibiotics as growth promoters were banned in Denmark in 2000. Since the phase-out began, total use of animal antibiotics has declined by 26 percent but therapeutic use has increased 223 percent. There’s been little if any reduction in the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans, according to Danish reports.
    Data in dispute
    Page 2 of 3 -   There’s no argument over whether antibiotic resistant infections in humans is serious. Apley said drug-resistant methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, now kills more people a year than AIDS and tuberculosis combined. “It’s a really big deal,” he said.
    Other claims are more questionable. One widely quoted figure attributed to the Union of Concerned Scientists is that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used by the livestock industries. On-the-ground surveys being conducted to get more accurate measures are showing a level closer to 10 percent, Apley said. The Animal Health Institute in Washington, D.C., maintains humans and pets actually receive 10 times more antibiotics by weight than farm animals do.
    However, studies have also shown pathogens that cross over between animals and humans, such as MRSA in hogs, can develop resistance in animals that is picked up by workers. The American Society of Microbiology contends drug resistant MRSA on pigs impacts workers most but also slowly spreads to the general population.
    Leaders in the animal health profession are looking for ways to be proactive on the issue while being less defensive when confronted by public interest groups.
    One strategy is to bring the human and animal health communities closer together. The One Health Initiative, for example, is an effort by the American Medical Association, AVMA and other health-related groups to foster a closer working relationship between their members. The Colorado Springs-based National Institute for Animal Agriculture is working in tandem with that approach, convening a series of conferences to encourage broader dialogue on topics like microbial resistance.
    Targeted improvements
    Aply said agriculture can do more to use animal health products responsibly.
    “I think we sometimes throw stuff around in the feed that we don’t need to,” he said following his talk. “In some cases, I’ve seen use that could have been more thought out.”
    One area where the industry should crack down is drug compounding, he added. The technique has received huge attention in the mainstream media after unsanitary compounding procedures led to hundreds of meningitis infections (and dozens of deaths) after people received contaminated steroid injections.
    Apley said similar negligence led to a 2009 case in which 21 polo ponies dropped dead in Florida after reportedly being injected with improperly mixed medications.
    “Generally speaking, you should only do it if nothing else is available and if it is being done using an approved product,” he said.
    With so much mixed science on the issue of antibiotic resistance, however, vets and producers are concerned that widespread restrictions on animal health tools could disrupt food production while doing little to reduce the threat super-germs pose to human health.
    Page 3 of 3 - “My impression is, in general, the industry is responsible, and the increasing awareness is causing us to be more responsible,” said Allan Sents, owner and manager of McPherson County Feeders in Kansas. “Every industry has outliers, but we need to address it on an individual basis, not industry-wide. And we need to be proactive in advertising the benefits of antibiotics and the role they play in animal welfare.”

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