Panel targets changing tone on perceptions of antibiotics

AFP Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Va. (May 24, 2016) — Leah Dorman sees the public’s mounting concerns about antibiotic use in animal agriculture as a chance to reframe the conversation — to talk about why antibiotics are used in the first place.
As a veterinarian, farmer and the director of food integrity and consumer engagement for Phibro Animal Health, a company that produces animal pharmaceuticals, that’s exactly what Dorman did during a panel discussion at the Animal Agriculture Summit earlier this month.
Dorman said she views antibiotics as an important tool for farmers who want to care for sick livestock, and why it’s important to use those tools when they are necessary.
“We’re making some changes folks, and we have a golden opportunity in the next seven months to talk about how we are doing our part to make sure we’re using antibiotics responsibly,” Dorman said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has driven many of those changes with its initiatives to eliminate the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth and to increase veterinarian oversight when antibiotics are administered.
Consumers concerned about antibiotic overuse leading to resistance in humans — or influenced by “antibiotic-free” labels without fully understanding what they mean — are increasingly opting for that option.
Restaurants and fast food chains like Subway and Chick-Fil-A are following in the footsteps of Chipotle and Panera in their commitments to source antibiotic-free meat, and producers are answering the call.
USA Today reporter Christopher Doering, who also spoke on the panel, said he can hardly keep up with each new retailer who announces they are going antibiotic-free each week.
He said the proliferation of such headlines alone gives consumers the impression that antibiotics should be avoided.
Dorman said increasing the choices available to consumers is great, but she cautioned the industry from jumping too quickly and wholly into antibiotic-free territory.
She mentioned a turkey grower in Iowa whose company had gone 100-percent antibiotic free, leaving the farmer with no market for turkeys that had become sick.
“That grower said, ‘I have to watch a percentage of them die,’” Dorman told the audience of more than 200. “As a vet, I treat the animal to make sure that we and them stay healthy.”
Dorman said her company is advocating for “smart use of antibiotics,” rather than forsaking pharmaceuticals without leaving farmers other options.
Richard Raymond, a medical doctor and the former Undersecretary for food safety at the USDA, said the scientific community doesn’t yet know enough to roll out sweeping regulations about antibiotics and how every aspect of the industry should or should not use them.
But antibiotic resistance is “a real concern” for the medical community — one to which the FDA has responded appropriately, he said.
“If you think you understand antibiotic resistance, then it has not been properly explained to you,” Raymond said, quoting another speaker he once heard on the subject.
Raymond said the FDA has done what’s necessary so far to ensure that there is minimal crossover between the antibiotics used in animal agriculture and those used as medications for humans, as not to feed resistance.
When resistance to the antibiotic cephalosporin rose from 10 percent to 28 percent from 2000 to 2012 — a drug of choice used to treat children with salmonella — the regulator said farmers could no longer use it in the feed and water of animals, a move Raymond applauded.
The FDA has banned other antibiotics when the signs of their resistance grow, but Raymond said the industry doesn’t have the knowledge yet to make sweeping changes for antibiotics as a whole — or a good alternative when animals are sick.
“When you are talking to a mother and father, they don’t want to hear about increased efficiencies,” Raymond said. “They want to know if the meat is good for their kid and safe.”