If you’ve struggled with a sinus infection or bronchitis this cold and flu season, then you may have gone to the doctor and received a prescription for antibiotics so you can feel better.

Sometimes, farmers also must use antibiotics to treat farm animals that get sick. In this case, livestock farmers consult with their veterinarians to determine the best treatment.

“Unfortunately, just like in people, despite all the things we do to try to prevent our animals from getting sick, it does happen,” says Dr. Kristen Obbink, a veterinarian and assistant director of the National Institute of Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education based at Iowa State University in Ames.

“And if we don’t treat (farm animals), they are suffering. Not only does this impact the animal’s quality of life, it’s also important from a food safety standpoint, because healthy animals result in safer food,” Obbink says.

Antibiotics usage is a growing concern in human and animal health because of the potential for illness-causing bacteria to become resistant to treatment over time, Obbink says.

Farmers are listening and responding to their customers’ concerns about antibiotic usage in livestock farming. Their efforts are highlighted in a new report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA report shows that sales and distribution of all medically important antimicrobials, or those important to human health, for food-producing animals decreased 33 percent in 2017.

And since 2015, sales and distribution of medically important antimicrobials for food-producing animals have dropped 43 percent, the FDA reported.

It’s a significant decline and shows that farmers have made responsible use of antibiotics a priority, Obbink says.

“It’s truly a farm to fork movement which includes farmers, veterinarians, human health care providers, and beyond,” Obbink says. “Everybody is working hard to promote using antibiotics as judiciously as we possibly can.”

A new FDA rule, implemented in January 2017, provides further guidance for use of medically important antibiotics in livestock farming. Medically important antibiotics are those antibiotics which are important for treating human disease.

Under the new rule, farmers can still use medically important antibiotics for animal disease prevention, treatment, and control, but only with a veterinarian’s approval and oversight, Obbink explains.

In addition, the FDA worked with animal drug manufacturers who voluntarily discontinued the use of medically important antimicrobials for animal growth promotion or feed efficiency.

Farmers continue to work closely with their veterinarians to protect animal health and overall food safety, using the latest science to guide herd-health decisions, Obbink says.

Researchers are discovering new ways to help keep animals healthy, such as improved animal-care practices and alternatives to antibiotics, she explains.

In fact, farmers have invested their own dollars in research on responsible antibiotic use, alternatives to antibiotics and production methods to reduce the need for antibiotics in their herds, Obbink said.

“Farmers truly care about their animals. They want their animals to be healthy. They want those food products to be high quality and safe. Everyone involved is committed to making sure that health and safety continues,” Obbink says.

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