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Introduction to Antimicrobial Usage in Animals

The use of antimicrobials in animals closely parallels their discovery and usage in humans.  Sulfonamide was the first antimicrobial to be introduced to food animal medicine in the 1940s. The subsequent discoveries and availabilities of newer antibiotics in the early 50’s quickly led to their widespread therapeutic usage for a multitude of infectious diseases in virtually all food animal species.    Antibiotics are also given to food animals for growth promotion and prophylactic medication.

The introduction and use of antimicrobials in animals has brought major benefits to both animals and humans.  Some of these benefits are:

  1. Reduction of animal pain and suffering;
  2. Protection of livelihood and animal resources;
  3. Assurance of continuous production of foods of animal origin;
  4. Prevention or minimizing shedding of zoonotic bacteria into the environment and the food chain;
  5. Containment of potentially large-scale epidemics that could result in severe loss of animal and human lives.

Clearly, the advantages generated by the use of antimicrobials for food animals transcends more than just the well-being of the animals, as it has also brought about economic benefits for the food animal producers and a more secured and safer health for the general public. 

However, there are conflicting opinions regarding the proper role of antimicrobials in the production of poultry and livestock. Many believe that the current scientific evidence sufficiently supports a curtailment of current U.S. antibiotic usage practices because they may pose a serious risk to both animal and human health through ever increasing rates of antimicrobial resistance.  Others argue that current U.S. regulatory policies regarding antibiotic usage are appropriate, and that further curtailment in antibiotic usage for food animals would be economically harmful to both consumers and producers, and quite unnecessary given the ill-defined risks of inducing greater rates of antimicrobial resistance.

One thing, upon which all can agree, is that the unnecessary or wasteful use of antibiotics should be curtailed when non-antibiotic solutions are readily available or when the use of antibiotics for a particular disease condition are clearly not efficacious.  It is upon this common ground that the human medical and veterinary medical communities call for the proper and prudent use of antibiotics, and mandate the proper training of human and animal health professionals regarding the judicious, proper and non-wasteful use of all antibiotics.  



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