History of Antibiotics and Use in Livestock Production

Antibiotic use within livestock production has been a hot topic for the United States, even the world, for years. Antibiotics are used in the production of livestock to increase growth and treat animals for illnesses. The general public of the U.S. did not approve of the widespread use of medicines entering their food supply. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) issued a Veterinary Feed Directive Jan. 1st of this year to control the amount of antibiotics used within our food production.

Discovery of Antibiotics

Antibiotics are medicines that are used to treat illnesses caused by microorganisms, such as, bacterial infections. Paul Ehrlich and Alexander Fleming are thought to be the original inventors of antibiotics, but antimicrobial medicine was found to be used in ancient civilizations long before modern medicine. Tetracyclines were found in the skeletal remains of ancient Egyptian peoples. This means the civilization had a diet that contained tetracyclines. Another instance of antibiotic use is within traditional Chinese medicine. They used many herbs in their remedies to cure all sorts of ailments. One such herb was the Artemisia annua, Wormwood. It contained a compound known today as artemisinin, which is used in many antibiotics.

Paul Ehrlich was searching for the panacea, or cure all, of microbial diseases. He started work against microbial diseases in the early 1900s. He started by creating a large screening system in an effort to find a cure for syphilis. After hundreds of trials, he created a cure for syphilis that was named Salvarsan. Salvarsan was later replaced in the 1940s by penicillin. Ehrlich’s mode of screening for drugs that could cure disease causing microbes was adopted by the pharmaceutical industry, which led to the discovery of many more antibiotics.

Antibiotic Use in Livestock Production

The use of antibiotics in livestock was introduced to treat microbial diseases, just like in humans. The antibiotics were used on farms to treat certain diseases if an event occurred. Then antibiotics were used to control the spread of a disease within a herd, which led to healthier herds. Farmers started to notice that animals started to grow larger and at a faster rate due to the antibiotic treatments. These treatments had actually improved the animals feed efficiency, or ability to turn food into the desired product. Whether the goal is to put on lean muscle or increase milk production, a higher feed efficiency will aid in achieving said goal.

Using antibiotics in such a large scale has improved the well being of many livestock species. It has, however, started a dialogue around the world about “superbugs” and antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics do not always get rid of all bacteria within the body, human or animal. These antibiotic resistant microbes can then multiply and begin to increase the number of resistant microbes. The fortunate thing about this is that the FDA, USDA, and CDC collect and monitor our food to ensure that none of these microbes reach human consumption. Antibiotics are also monitored within livestock to ensure that they never make it to the general food supply. Each medicine has a “withdrawal date” or time it takes to pass through an organism. For some antibiotics, the withdrawal date may be as little as 24 hours. Other antibiotics take several days or weeks. Data is recorded each time something is administered to an animal to ensure that it does not carry antibiotics into human consumption.

Another way the FDA has combated the introduction of antibiotic resistant microbes, is the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), that was issued January 1st of 2017. This VFD has limited livestock producers to use certain antibiotics to promote growth

VFD graphic
beefmagazine.com

within their herds. They are still able to feed Ionophores and other basic antibiotics that are only used in the animal population. Human medicines, like penicillin, are important to the human population and have been restricted in their use in livestock production. These antibiotics must be acquired under veterinary supervision to be used for the treatment of diseases. Promoting this moderate use of antibiotics slows the development of antibiotic resistant microbes within a livestock animal.

Even though the livestock industry uses a large portion of the
world’s antibiotics to produce a product, it does not mean that the product has become harmful to humans. Animals are able to live healthier with the aid of antibiotics, and provide a safe and healthy product for human consumption.

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Bio: My name is Michael Lammersfeld. I am a Senior Agriculture Science student at Western Illinois University. Originally from a small town, Capron IL, I came out to WIU to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian. Along the way, I got to work with many amazing animals on the farms at Western, join Phi Mu Alpha, and even become captain of the Cheerleading team for our Fighting Leathernecks!

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One thought on “History of Antibiotics and Use in Livestock Production

  1. I’m glad you brought up the point about withdrawal periods. Many people who do not completely understand the industry do not know about withdrawal periods and that can often make people nervous to eat some meat, which in my opinion leads to more people eating organic meat.

    Like

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