For more than 40 years, antibiotics approved by the FDA have been used to treat, control and prevent diseases in animals. These health products also have important benefits to the animal’s welfare and to human food safety, as livestock and poultry producers rely on animal antibiotics to provide U.S. consumers with the safest food possible.
Benefit to Animal Welfare
Animal welfare describes how well an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. Animals have good welfare if – based on a scientific evaluation – they are healthy, comfortable, well-nourished and safe. Good welfare also refers to the absence of suffering due to distress such as pain and fear.
Banning or severely restricting the use of antimicrobials in animals may negatively impact a veterinarian’s ability to protect animal health and prevent suffering from disease, which can lead to poor animal welfare.
Ensuring good animal welfare is a human responsibility, which includes ensuring proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, responsible care, humane handling and, when necessary, humane euthanasia.
Benefit to Food Safety
The benefits of using antibiotics to treat and prevent animal disease extend far beyond the farm. In fact, research has shown that as rates of animal illnesses increase, so do rates of human illness (Russell 2003, Hurd et al PHR 2008). At least one study has shown that even a slight increase in animal-illness rate leads to a greater human-illness rate than the development of antibiotic resistance (Singer et al. 2007).
Food safety begins with healthy animals, continues in the harvesting process with good hygiene and application of hazard analysis/critical control point regulations, and extends to the packing and handling of the food product in both the market and the home. All of these steps work in tandem, and skipping any one of them increases the risk of foodborne illness.
That’s why careful antibiotic use on the farm to keep animals healthy is so important. Research shows that animals that are sub-clinically ill – not outwardly showing signs of illness but not as internally healthy as they can be – increase the threat of bacteria in the harvesting process, placing more pressure on all of the remaining safety steps.
- For the Record, “Could Banning Farm Antibiotics Lead to More Food Borne Disease?” (2008)
- Potential Human Health Implications of Swine Health, H. Scott Hurd (2007)
- Public Health Reports, “Swine Health Impact on Carcass Contamination and Human Foodborne Risk” (2008)
- Interfaces, Quantifying Human Health Risks from Animal Antimicrobials,” Tony Cox (2007)
- PoultryUSA, “Ban Antibiotics In Poultry?”, Russell (2003)
- Poultry Health Impact on Food Safety, Russell (2002)
- Preventive Vet Medicine, “Modeling the relationship between food animal health and human foodborne illness,” Singer (2007)