Using antibiotics: A right or a privilege?

In 1928, the Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic properties of the fungus Penicillium notatum, now known as Penicillium chrysogenum.
Four years later, German scientists at Bayer Laboratories began experiments with a promising family of molecules called sulfas. Those pivotal moments in medical history sparked the age of antibiotics, which has revolutionized both human and veterinary medicine.
For the past 80 years, livestock producers have appreciated the benefits of using antibiotics to treat infectious diseases to improve the health, productivity and profitability of their cattle.
The need for quality veterinary-medical products still is vital to modern livestock operations in managing respiratory disease, scours, pinkeye, foot rot and a host of other infectious processes.
The beef industry has benefited from the frequent addition of new and improved antibiotic products from the pharmaceutical industry.
I shudder to think of the consequences if the industry should ever be required to produce quality, affordable animal-protein products without the help of fast-acting, long-duration antimicrobials. Unfortunately, that fear is not unfounded.
The use of antibiotics is a privilege
Cattle producers always should remember the use of antibiotics in food production is a privilege granted by their customers: food consumers – a privilege that has been earned and must be protected.
Beef consumers demand that antibiotics be used safely and judiciously, and each of us in the beef industry has a responsibility to ourselves, our families and our customers to use antibiotics in the most careful and judicious manner possible.
Meeting the demands of consumers
No one in the beef industry would question that consumers have tremendous power – and that has been demonstrated frequently the past few years.
When consumers are motivated to take action by false or misleading information, the consequences to both the industry and the consumer can be dramatic. In an age of exploding social media, it is easy for an activist with a cause to flood the Web with sensational stories that could be both untrue and damaging.
Regarding beef quality and safety, our best defense – and perhaps our only real defense – is to maintain a sterling safety record that cannot be challenged. The future of the beef industry depends on the transparent communication of the consistent efforts of producers to ensure the absolute safety of the food they produce.
The beef industry has made tremendous strides in the past decade to bring the number of violative residues in beef to extremely low levels.
Some argue that the beef industry’s current safety record is so strong that it poses only a miniscule risk to public health and, therefore, is good enough. Others push for even better results. One thing is clear – the industry must continue its efforts to guarantee that beef purchasers have complete confidence in the food they buy for their families.
That will require an ever-increasing effort to be prepared for the constant scrutiny the industry will surely continue to face.
Guidelines for antibiotic use
What can you do as a beef producer to protect your antibiotic privileges? Put into practice the guidelines that have been endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, the Academy of Veterinary Consultants and the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.
The guidelines are summarized and organized in the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program, and every livestock producer and their employees should become BQA-certified. Following are essential antibiotic use guidelines every cattle producer should implement and follow:
• Use antibiotics correctly with the help and guidance of a veterinarian. Establish a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) so that you are prepared well in advance when the need for treatment arises.
• Ask your veterinarian for written treatment protocols for the common diseases you are likely to encounter.
• Train yourself and your employees to follow those protocols exactly as written.
• Keep complete written records of all animals treated with antibiotics or any product with a withdrawal requirement. These can be written records in a permanent notebook or a simple computer spreadsheet.
• Record all essential information, including date of treatment, animal ID, drug used, dose and route of administration, person giving treatment, days of meat withdrawal required, date of withdrawal clearance and date shipped for harvest.
False-positive residue tests are not common but certainly can occur when tissues are sampled at the packer. If that should occur in one of your animals, you will be contacted by the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service.
Your treatment records will be the only acceptable proof that all prescribed treatment and withdrawal requirements were followed correctly.
See below or click here to see a more complete list of BQA recommendations.
Preserving the privilege
These antibiotic use requirements are not difficult but they do demand discipline, training and consistent effort. A casual attitude toward compliance and records is unacceptable.
Now is the time to renew your commitment to producing quality beef and step up efforts that demonstrate your commitment to excellence. The trust of our customer and our privilege to use antibiotics is at stake.  end_mark
Dr. Kevin Hill is a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health. He lives in Utah, click here to contact him or he can be reached at (801) 540-2895.
BQA recommendations for treatment, processing and record-keeping
1. Follow all product label directions as well as applicable guidelines of the FDA, USDA and EPA.
2. Keep extra-label drug use to a minimum and use only when prescribed by a veterinarian working under a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR).
3. Adhere to extended withdrawal periods (as determined by a veterinarian within the context of a VCPR).
4. Identify all individual animals or groups.
5. Keep the following records when cattle are treated:
• Individual animal/group or lot identification
• Date treated
• Product administered and manufacturer’s lot/serial number
• Dosage
• Route and location of administration
• Earliest date animal will have cleared the withdrawal period
• Name of individual administering the treatment
6. Transfer all treatment and processing records with the cattle to the next production level. Prospective buyers must be informed of any cattle that have not met withdrawal times.


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