There has been a great deal of discussion lately about how antibiotics are used in raising livestock. The reality is that farmers and ranchers take antibiotic use in livestock very seriously and continuously evaluate the way they use antibiotics based on the best possible science.
In fact, for nearly 30 years, there have been quality assurance programs in place to help make sure farmers and ranchers are continuously improving the way they raise beef, including the way they use antibiotics, in order to protect human health, as well as animal health. This is often referred to as “antibiotic stewardship.”
Quality assurance throughout the beef community
A foundation for antibiotic stewardship in the beef community is the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program. Started in the 1980’s, BQA is a nationally-coordinated, voluntary, program that provides guidelines for raising beef. The BQA program is guided by an Advisory Board composed of veterinarians, animal scientists, meat scientists, state BQA coordinators, cattlemen and dairymen from across the United States.
Antibiotic stewardship and BQA go hand in hand
A significant part of the BQA program involves antibiotic stewardship training about the appropriate use and administration of pharmaceutical products including following withdrawal times, the prevention of environmental contamination, the need for good record keeping, and the importance of a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship. In fact, one of the guidelines put forth in the BQA program, A Beef Producer’s Guide for the Judicious Use of Antimicrobials in Cattle highlights 14 use guidelines for antibiotics, including:
- Avoid using antibiotics that are important in human medicine
- Use a narrow spectrum of antimicrobials whenever possible
- Treat the fewest number of animals possible
- Antibiotics used should be limited to treat, prevent or control disease
Antibiotics are just one tool
The BQA program also teaches that antibiotics are just one tool to ensure healthy animals and there are many others, including good management practices, vaccines, cattlenutrition programs, veterinary care, proper housing and low-stress handling that are critical components to ensuring healthy animals as well. If cattle become ill, it is critical to identify the right illness for proper treatment and producers may consult a veterinarian for assistance in diagnosis of the illness. If an antibiotic is needed to treat the illness, the right antibiotic is administered for the right amount of time by following the FDA-approved label instructions, Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines and veterinary guidance.
Today, Beef Quality Assurance influences management practices of more than 80-90 percent of U.S. cattle and farmers and ranchers work hard every day to continue to increase the number of producers who are BQA certified. The beef community continues to invest in research to better understand how to effectively and appropriately use antibiotics to best protect animal and public health. For example, the beef community has organized a research advisory group composed of a wide range of university researchers within the agricultural community to direct the planning for future antibiotic use and antimicrobial resistance research activities.