Antibiotics and livestock

Time is right to be more discerning in use

Medical research has brought an extraordinary array of pharmaceutical treatments to the marketplace, so many that determining what is effective and when is a large, significant field of research. That is for good reason, as health care can create negative side effects and unexpected consequences.

Treatments have to be appropriate to the need, and that includes preventive measures, as well. As a severe example, if a series of tuberculosis treatments is discontinued before completion, the infected body is able to create defenses which outmatch the treatment and can spread, doing increased harm.

Disease in the body, and on the planet, is a fierce competitor.

We are pleased that, as to the livestock production for food, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been studying closely the antibiotics used in meat production. For decades, it has been too tempting for livestock growers to treat large numbers of animals with multiple antibiotics whether they need it or not, basing their decisions on large studies. Treating a large group of animals is less costly than examining and treating single animals, and the thought is that, for a small cost, any chance of a disease is eliminated.

While the cost of antibiotics does discourage overtreatment in an industry with slim margins, it is too easy to error on the side of more is better.

The USDA is involved because there is some chance that what livestock are ingesting is affecting human health, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal last week.

It would be best if antibiotics were used only in the treatment of disease, and the USDA is exploring how any new rules for livestock producers could accomplish that. Veterinarians could have to give their approval to treatments, as well.

Livestock growers say they are aware of the issue, and are addressing it. Fast-food restaurants also have said they want to boast that their products are as antibiotic-free as possible.

At different times, as research and wealth have grown, the country has reached tipping points in the way treatments are delivered. While plenty of diseases still require breakthroughs in treatment, in other cases, treatments are applied inappropriately. Animals destined for food are in that mix, too.