Antibiotic Use in Cattle 101

Myth: Big beef uses antibiotics without regard for animal welfare or human health.

Facts: Antibiotics are just one tool beef farmers and ranchers use to keep cattle healthy by treating and preventing the spread of illness. Cattle can pick up illnesses, just like humans, whether they’re out on pasture or in a feedlot with other animals. Cattlemen work closely with veterinarians to develop a comprehensive health program, which may include nutritious diet, proper housing, hygiene, vaccinations and antibiotics.

Antibiotics CattleHere are the basics on antibiotic use in cattle:

How are they used?

  • When an animal gets sick, farmers, ranchers and veterinarians carefully evaluate when to administer antibiotics and use specific dosages and treatment protocols to treat the animal.
  • Cattle farmers and ranchers believe not treating cattle that become sick is inhumane as part of their ongoing commitment to animal health and welfare. When administering antibiotics, they follow precise label directions, meaning they adhere to usage guidelines to protect both animals and humans that have been rigorously tested and approved by the United States Food & Drug Administration. Just like in human medicine, there are many protocols developed by veterinarians and scientists that they have to follow diligently.
  • Antibiotics are used in animal medicine to prevent disease, which is important to animal and human safety.
  • Antibiotic use to prevent disease differs from growth promotion purposes in three ways: dose, duration and level of veterinary oversight.
  • Some farmers and ranchers choose to use ionophores – a special class of antibiotics not used in human medicine – to promote lean muscle growth in animals, which results in leaner beef choices.

Who ensures antibiotics are not overused?

  • There is no reason to overuse antibiotics, but reasons why they might be used at specific times and in targeted ways. For one, it’s the law not to overuse them, but antibiotics also are expensive for the small businessmen and women who raise cattle for beef.

How are antibiotics given to cattle?

  • Depending on the circumstance, antibiotics may be given to cattle as individual injections or added to feed or water to treat a larger group who has been exposed to the same illness.

Are antibiotics safe?

  • All antibiotics must go through rigorous government scrutiny before being approved for use in livestock.
  • Unlike human medicine, animal medicine goes through three layers of approval, is the medicine safe for the animal, the environment and the humans who will consume the meat. All three areas must be evaluated before approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
  • Even after they’re approved, antibiotics are continuously monitored and must be re-evaluated annually. They only stay on the market if they continue to be proven safe.

What’s being done to improve antibiotic use?

  • Cattlemen and the entire livestock community are working together to continuously improve the way antibiotics are used in animals, because they care about how their practices impact antibiotic safety and efficacy.
  • The beef community is also working to avoid using antibiotics that are important to both human and animal medicine, as identified by the World Health Organization. For example, Food & Drug Administration Guidance 209 and 213 will eliminate growth promotion uses of medically important antibiotics and extend veterinary oversight.

For consumers who want beef raised without antibiotics, the beef community has listened and provides choices to meet those needs.

Learn more about judicious use of antibiotics and what farmers and ranchers do to keep animals and humans safe.

Comments

  1. The reason antibiotics in livestock have a bad name is not really what you describe, I think, but the perception that indeed they ARE used for growth promotion more than anything else. Maybe that has changed, but there used to be times when this was true and it led to a lot of unnecessary and dangerous microbial resistant strains that now threaten humans too and which arguably might never have taken hold had antibiotics not been used rather indiscriminately for that purpose. And there seems to have been, like in doping for bikers etc., a lot of veterinarians who “sold” prescriptions for that purpose and thus giving the whole procedure a bad name which still largely shapes public perception to this day. As for “ionophores “: they may have the muscling effect you describe but as I understand it this is not their direct effect. Rather this effect comes about by the ionophores re-shaping the microbial fauna in the rumen to adapt it more easily and speedily to changes in the diet (e.g. when changing from pasture grazing to e.g. grain feed etc.). It is actually also beneficial in the sense that it makes this switch faster and thus saves food in the sense that the new food is broken down more effectively earlier than if the realignment of the ruman fauna were left unguided.

  2. Someone is out of touch with what happens out here. Explain ctc in mineral. explain why so many cattle are pulse fed.

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