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Stewardship, not judicious use to become ag industry antibiotic goal

Aerin Curtis

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

14-Oct-2015
Last updated on 16-Oct-2015 at 15:13 GMT2015-10-16T15:13:20Z

The movement toward stewardship in agricultural antibiotic use marks a change in thinking for the industry, says one industry expert.

Previously, the discussion about agricultural use of antibiotics related to “judicious use,” now the goal is to promote antibiotic stewardship, said Guy Loneragan, professor of food safety and public health and veterinary epidemiologist at Texas Tech University.

“We get to think about the broader, healthy population,” he told FeedNavigator. “It lets you think about how to not use them [antibiotics], rather than just using them judiciously.”

The move is part of ongoing work across the country to meet the goals outlined in the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, he said.

One end goal of the effort is to preserve current antibiotics for future use, he said. “If you think about this from a veterinary medicine perspective, what we have today is largely what we’ll have in 10, 20 years’ time. We’re not going to get to many new ones so we need to preserve the ones we have,” he added.

The larger scope

The action plan was designed to help address and slow the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and to include involvement from several sectors including public health, veterinarians and agricultural industry leaders, officials wrote in the action plan.

A recent meeting with the US Department of Agriculture, US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focused on how to collect information regarding both the on-farm use of antibiotics and resistance, FDA officials said.

“Gathering information on the way medically important antibiotics are used is essential to measuring the impact of the FDA’s judicious use strategy,” FDA officials said. “On-farm use data collection is consistent with objectives outlined in the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria to enhance monitoring of antimicrobial-resistance patterns, as well as antimicrobial sales, usage, and management practices, at multiple points in the production chain for food-producing animals and retail meat.”

Additionally, the information can be used to gauge efforts made moving producers toward antibiotic stewardship while guiding that work, they said.  

More meetings have been set to further the conversation regarding data collection and the use of antibiotics in agriculture, said officials with the US Department of Health and Human Services. Currently those are set to run through September of 2016.

“There’s a lot of people and groups that feel, and believe and understand the importance of the topic,” said Loneragan. “If you look in isolation, ‘it’s what a great effort,’ but when you look at all the activities and the groups, it’s quite impressive.” 

Data needed

There has been growing interest from producers in different sectors of the agriculture industry, like swine, beef or poultry producers on how to capture the farm-level data needed, said Loneragan.

“It needs to be flexible so the design produces accurate and informative data on use, and there is a strong interest that individual information be kept confidential,” he said. However, other information may put amount data in better perspective.

“Antibiotic use in livestock production is an extraordinarily complex issue,” said Loneragan.“Understanding how and why antibiotics are used is one of the important questions that need to be addressed.”

That information can provide background for work on areas like developing production or management practices that could address problems now solved with the use of antibiotics, he said. The focus would also give the industry and other groups working on the project a better understanding of the disease burden faced.

“The reporting is one [part], but understanding the how and the why should really direct us to understand what are the alternatives and reasons that need to be addressed,” he said.

Later steps in the action plan look to those alternative methods and the use of improved diagnostics, he added.

Additionally, Loneragan said, several retailers are already calling for the development of animal production practices that reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics. “Those types of needs can be better driven with the how and why that comes along with the use data,” he added. 

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