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Are antibiotics good or bad for livestock?

What is an antimicrobial?

Antimicrobials are a class of medications that kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms, including bacteria. They are an invaluable tool in the treatment of bacterial infection and are essential to the maintenance of animal health and welfare as well as the profitability and sustainability of livestock production. Commonly referred to as antibiotics, antimicrobials include a large number of medications, some of which are reserved for human use while many more are available to humans and animals alike. Penicillin, which is used in humans to treat pneumonia, scarlet fever, and a number of other infections, is one of the most recognized and significant medicines in the modern world. Antimicrobials are also used to treat and prevent infections following surgery.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Because many of the infections antimicrobials treat are bacterial, those bacteria are capable of developing a resistance to the antimicrobials used against them. To some extent, resistance to antimicrobials developes every time an antimicrobial is used. This occurs because the treatment fails to completely wipe out bacterial organisms that have naturally occurring resistance, allowing their numbers to increase. So, the more we use antimicrobials, the greater the risk that certain bacteria will become resistant to treatment. It’s now known that this resistance can then be passed on to other bacteria through a process known as horizontal gene transfer.

Are antimicrobials good or bad?

Like any tool, antimicrobials themselves are neither good nor bad—it’s all about how we use them. When we use antimicrobials responsibly they can treat illness, save lives, improve animal welfare and significantly reduce the operational costs of livestock production. However, if we don’t use medically important antimicrobials responsibly, the risk to human health may result in their use in animals being prohibited. Walking this line of antimicrobial stewardship is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of everyone one who uses them, including consumers, veterinarians, livestock producers, and pet owners.

How should we use them?

Before using any antimicrobial there are a number of factors that must be considered. If you’re administering antimicrobials on your animals, be sure that you’re using them right:

  • the right drug
  • the right reason
  • the right patient
  • the right dose
  • the right route
  • the right time
  • the right duration
  • the right records