There is a great review of the evolution of the public’s concerns over the use of antibiotics in food animals in the August edition of Meatingplace titled Tipping Point by Rita Jane Gabbett, executive editor.

The article describes how and why “the shift in consumer preference for meat from poultry and livestock raised without the use of antibiotics” may have passed the critical tipping point, even though the public has no clear understanding of how livestock are raised.  Or what the actual risk of consuming meat from animals previously treated with antibiotics actually is.

Explanations about strict federal requirements to ensure that antibiotics are used safely have not convinced the growing number of consumers demanding antibiotic-free products.

The National Pork Producers Council explains:

There is a common misconception that antibiotics used in animals will show up in the meat sold at the grocery store. Animals who are treated with antibiotics go through a strict withdrawal period and must meet federal standards for antibiotic residue before the meat enters the food supply.

The National Pork Council also explains why antibiotic use is important for the health of hogs and safe for consumers:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve animal antibiotics before they can be utilized. To gain approval, a drug maker must demonstrate that the product is effective and safe for the animal and safe for the environment. FDA must also determine that new antibiotics for food animals are safe with regard to human health. FDA approves antibiotics for four purposes: treatment of illness, prevention of disease, control of disease and nutritional efficiency of animals.

Despite a robust educational campaign, consumers are increasingly demanding antibiotic-free products.

As Gabbett notes:

The issue has been a frustrating one for the meat industry because antibiotics use in food animals is complicated and easily misunderstood.

With the largest retailers, fast food eateries and meat processors “announc[ing] the moves they are making toward reducing antibiotic use in food animals that produce the meant they sell, there’s a solid market for it.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association (“AVMA”) is engaged with other animal health professionals in the private and public sector to establish policies “minimizing the threat of antibiotic resistance to human, animal health.”

In an article titled “Responsible Use of Antibiotics in U.S. Animal Agriculture” the AVMA acknowledges the importance of this issue:

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing public health concerns facing the world today.  The veterinary profession is working together with U.S. and international partners to develop strategies to better protect public and animal health and keep our food supply safe.

From a veterinary perspective, let’s hope that animals in need of antibiotic treatment will not be denied such treatment if it continues to be safe and efficacious.