Home 5 Ag Stories Antibiotics in Agriculture: Judicious use vs. stewardship

Antibiotics in Agriculture: Judicious use vs. stewardship

Photo courtesy of Ryan Thompson, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Livestock producers depend on antibiotics to keep their animals healthy. Once widely used in feed and water to promote growth and prevent disease, the emphasis for antibiotics is now on proper use only when the animal has an infection and needs ​intervention to recover.

The Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) was implemented to preserve antibiotic use in agriculture. Now, stewardship is necessary to keep it there.

A veterinarian explains the specifics of what is required of farm animal producers to have any chance of keeping therapeutic drugs in their control.

In recent years, the threat of bacterial resistance to antibiotic treatments has prompted concerns, not only in the human health sector, but also over the use of antibiotics in livestock production as a contributor to the issue. Hence, the recent enforcement of the Veterinary Feed Directive that now governs antibiotic use in production agriculture.

Kansas State University Veterinarian Mike Apley is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on antibiotic resistance and use in livestock. Apley spoke with Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Farm Director Ron Hays about his perspective on the issue.

“The question – is about stewardship vs. judicious use,” Apley said, explaining that the judicious use of antibiotics is when a veterinarian has diagnosed an infection and prescribes an effective dose of antibiotics for an animal for a specific duration of time. “We’ve made that decision, to use it for just as long as I need to and I’m only going to expose the animals that absolutely have to have it. Stewardship brings in the part of me doing everything I possibly can to avoid the need to use the antibiotic.”

In his work with peers and fellow scientists, Apley arrived at the point of view that stewardship should be practiced, in order to ensure the continued use of antibiotics be allowed and remain an effective treatment. This is a position he feels adamant about.

“On Ag, we’re being asked about the nature of the production systems that have evolved to very efficiently produce food at a very low cost,” Apley said. “What it comes down to is, antibiotics are incredibly valuable in human and veterinary medicine. So, we better be paying attention to stewardship.”