5 Fast Facts About the New FDA Antibiotics Guidelines

Ranchers write down antibiotic adminstration records

Farmers and ranchers take antibiotic use and stewardship very seriously.

Farmers and ranchers are always looking for ways to improve how they raise cattle for beef. Whether it be natural resource use and environmental sustainabilty, improving animal care, or responsible use of antibiotics, farmers and ranchers care about improving and responding to consumer preferences. Real changes happen daily on farms, ranches and feedyards around the country.

Real Change is Underway

We’ve talked in previous posts about how and why antibiotics are used in raising cattle for beef, as well as the long-standing commitment of cattle producers to using antibiotics judiciously. In addition to Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Judicious Use Guidelines which have been in place since the 1980s, the beef industry is now working to reduce the use of antibiotics that are medically important to humans under new guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) known as FDA Guidance 209 and 213, which will be enforced by the federal government. The new antibiotics use guidelines will be fully enacted by January 1, 2017, but cattle farmers, ranchers and feedyard managers have already begun implementing these changes, many of them going above and beyond what is required by law, working with veterinary health professionals, regulatory officials and the general public to ensure healthy animals and safe beef.

Here are five fast facts about the new FDA antibiotics guidelines:

  1. The new FDA guidelines will restrict the use of antibiotics in livestock that are used in feed and water and are medically important to human health. These drugs will no longer be used for growth promotion and will only be used to treat, prevent and control disease only under the oversight of a veterinarian.
  2. Farmers and ranchers will be required to form even stronger relationships with a licensed veterinarian, called a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, in order to receive authorization from their veterinarian for the appropriate antibiotic for a specified illness for a specific time period.
  3. Per FDA guidelines, farmers and ranchers will utilize very specific detailed orders for antibiotics in feed as authorized by veterinarians, called veterinary feed directives, that will outline exactly how long an antibiotic can be used, for what illness and for a specific number of animals. Increased use of detailed records on the part of the farmer or rancher and their veterinarian will enable them to more precisely evaluate their use of antibiotics.
  4. Farmers and ranchers are continually seeking new and effective cattle health and nutrition alternatives, such as probiotics or nutritional supplements, which can help contribute to improved overall herd health and may reduce the need for some antibiotics. Looking for alternatives to antibiotics is an ongoing area of research throughout agriculture. In fact, many animal health companies have pledged significant resources to further researching these alternatives.
  5. In addition to what is required by law, the beef community is committed to going above and beyond to ensure responsible antibiotic use in animals to protect the efficacy of antibiotics for humans and animals. This year, cattle farmers and ranchers have made further research on antibiotic resistance their number one research priority and are directly investing their dollars to advance research in this area. Additionally, the industry is proactively developing educational materials, including webinars, posters, presentations at local and national meetings and other training resources in order to educate cattle farmers, ranchers and feedyard owners to ensure that they are equipped with the resources they need to follow these new guidelines. Partnerships with groups like the American Academy of Bovine Practitioners and other science-based organizations are ongoing and instrumental in making sure that we’re protecting the health of animals, while simultaneously protecting public health.

Healthy Cattle, Safe Beef

When it comes to healthy animals, no one cares more than farmers and ranchers. The beef that farmers and ranchers raise and sell to restaurants and supermarkets is the same beef they feed their own families, so it’s no surprise that they want the best care for their livestock to ensure everyone has safe, healthy beef. Implementing new antibiotics guidelines from the FDA and working with their veterinarians more closely than ever before is just one example of how the cattle industry is continuously improving.

Would Removing Beef from the Diet Actually Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

Ashley Broocks, Emily Andreini, Megan Rolf, Ph.D., and Sara Place, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff or the US Department of Agriculture. 

Many people have suggested that removing beef from the human diet could significantly lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In reality, completely removing beef from the diet would likely not result in huge declines in GHG emissions and would have negative implications for the sustainability of the U.S. food system.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), beef cattle production was responsible for 1.9 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions in 2013. Comparing food production (essential for human life) to transportation and electricity (non-essential for human survival, but important to our modern lifestyles) is problematic. Electricity and transportation produce much of the GHG emissions in the United States, but most people do not call for the elimination of electricity or transportation. Instead, efforts are made to lower the GHG emissions produced to provide the same energy and transportation services (e.g. switching to renewable energy sources for electricity generation).

U.S> EPS GHG Emissions Inventory for 2013

Studying the different ways resources like feed, water and land can be used more efficiently throughout the beef lifecycle to reduce GHG emissions per pound of beef would provide the means to maintain the same level of food production while reducing GHG emissions. Beef production has made impressive advances to meet the protein demands of a growing population while reducing the amount of natural resources required. For example, due to improved genetics, animal nutrition, management, and the use of growth promoting technologies, the U.S. beef community has decreased its GHG emissions per pound of beef 9-16 percent from the 1970s to today.

Another key component of reducing GHG emissions from the beef system is the role of the consumer. Over 20 percent of edible beef is wasted at grocery stores, restaurants and in the home. As with other foods, the amount of non-renewable resources used and the environmental impacts that went into producing the portions of beef that are being sent to a landfill are often overlooked. Consumers could improve beef sustainability by 10 percent if beef waste were reduced by half.

Additionally, cattle have the ability to utilize forages such as grass and hay, and by-products (e.g. distillers grains) that are unfit for human consumption. Cattle can utilize cellulose, one of the world’s most abundant organic molecules, that is indigestible by humans, and can also convert low-quality feeds into high-quality protein from land not suited for cultivation, thereby reducing soil erosion and enhancing soil carbon storage. U.S. beef farmers and ranchers feed their cattle feed sources that are not in direct competition with humans and/or would have gone to waste.

Beef is a valuable asset to the human diet. Along with being a significant source of lean protein, beef provides key nutrients such as iron, zinc and B vitamins. Removing beef from the food chain would result in consumers having to seek alternative protein and micronutrient sources. As with all foods, the production of beef has impacts, but direct emissions from the U.S. beef community are only estimated to be 1.9 percent of the total U.S. GHG emissions.[1]

[1] https://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/Downloads/ghgemissions/US-GHG-Inventory-2015-Chapter-Executive-Summary.pdf

How Farmers and Ranchers Are Becoming More Sustainable

When it comes to questions about sustainability, U.S. agriculture sometimes gets a bad rap. We know you might have questions about the sustainability of the food you eat and want to know what farmers have done (and what they are continuing to do) to be more sustainable. Of course, the best people to answer questions about sustainability in agriculture are the farmers and ranchers living it every day. On US News & World Report, Registered Dietitian Toby Amidor interviews five different types of farmers, including Kansas rancher Debbie Lyons-Blythe, to share some of the environmentally-friendly changes in their methods of raising and growing food.

Debbie Lyons-Blythe, Kansas cattle rancher

Debbie Lyons-Blythe, Kansas cattle rancher

“I live in the Kansas Flint Hills, one of the last remaining natural tallgrass prairies in the world. To protect the prairie, we work hard to maintain the water and water quality in our ponds.

The water comes from rainfall on the surrounding hills and is filtered through the grass as it runs into the ponds, providing access to clean, fresh water for cattle and wildlife alike. According to recent studies, up to 75 percent of wildlife in the U.S. lives on farms and ranches. We manage for the entire ecosystem and diversity is the goal – both in wildlife and grasses. That makes for a healthier grassland and healthier cattle.” – Debbie Lyons-Blythe, Blythe Ranch, Kansas

Read the rest of the article.

 

 

The Beef Lifecycle Begins on the Cow-Calf Operation

The entire beef community works every day to produce high-quality beef for Americans. So, where does it all begin? The beef lifecycle begins on a cow-calf operation; where farmers and ranchers maintain a herd of mama cows for breeding.

First, cows (mature female cattle) and bulls (intact adult male cattle) are bred to produce calves. During the 9-month gestation period, farmers and ranchers play close attention to mama cows to make sure there are no problems with the pregnancy.

If any issues arise, a farmer, rancher or veterinarian can step in to ensure the health and safety of the mama and baby.

Farmers and ranchers are there every step of the way

Cows receive assistance from farmers and ranchers, and often times a veterinarian, during the birthing process, which is also known as calving. When a calf is born, it weighs between 60-100 pounds depending on its parent’s genetics and how well the mama cow’s body performed nutritionally during gestation. A newborn calf will spend the first few months of life drinking its mother’s milk and grazing on vast grass pastures. Today, cattle are born and raised in almost every state around the country on farms and ranches such as Debbie Lyons-Blythe’s ranch in Kansas or in South Dakota at Jake and Carolyn Geis’ ranch.

This calf is being branded for identification and herd management. Photo courtesy Jennie Hodgen

This calf is being branded for identification and herd management. Photo courtesy Jennie Hodgen

Animal safety is a priority

It is important for farmers and ranchers to be able to identify their cattle for the safety and security of their herd. Some cattle farmers and ranchers may use ear tags, which identify the animal with a number tagged in their ear (sort of like an earring). Before beginning the weaning process, other calves may receive a custom brand either by hot iron or freeze branding, so they are easily identifiable from a distance. The branding process does not cause long-term harm or pain to cattle, and it prevents them from getting lost or stolen. Additionally, some ranchers in western states are required by law to brand their cattle.

Before four months of age, the testicles are often removed from male calves being raised for beef through a process called castration. Castration occurs because bulls display more aggressive behavior and can cause harm to other animals or farmers and ranchers, so removing the testicles improves overall safety for the animal and for the animal caretakers. Removal is quick, low-stress and the calf begins the healing process immediately.

Cattle with horns can cause injury to other cattle they encounter throughout their lifetime. For this reason, horns are removed from calves in a process called dehorning. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that cattle be dehorned at the earliest age possible.

For these procedures and more, education and tools are provided to cattle farmers and ranchers to ensure proper cattle care. Introduced in 1987, the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program was developed to ensure proper cattle care through every stage of the beef lifecycle.

The lifecycle continues

At 6-10 months of age, and approximately 500 pounds, calves are ready to begin weaning. Weaning is the process by which calves are moved away from their mothers in order to graze on grass pastures, where they eat grass and forages that are indigestible to humans. The weaning process allows calves to become independent of their mother’s milk so they may continue to grow and thrive on the pasture.

After weaning is complete, the beef lifecycle continues. Many calves are purchased at livestock auction markets by farmers and ranchers called stockers and backgrounders. However, some calves (about one in three female calves) are kept on the cow-calf operation as breeding animals or “mama cows to-be,” and the lifecycle begins again.

In every stage of the beef lifecycle , farmers and ranchers are dedicated to the health and safety of their animals at the cow-calf operation. Cow-calf operations are just the beginning of how the beef community comes together to bring beef from farm to fork.

How Beef Goes from Pasture to Plate

The beef lifecycle is a complex system that requires a broad community of people working together to create high-quality beef. These people – farmers, ranchers, animal caretakers, veterinarians, nutritionists and those involved in packing/processing — are committed to responsibly raising beef. There are a variety of steps in the lifecycle, and ‘How Beef Goes from Pasture to Plate’ gives a firsthand look into the beef community.

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.

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