Veterinarians cannot be on hand to administer every antibiotic on their clients’ operations, but a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship and good communications are critical. While there is a general consensus that antibiotics are critical tools in human medicine, you don’t have to take the discussion much further before encountering disagreements. Questions regarding antibiotic use in animals, the ways they are used in humans and the causative factors in the emergence of antibiotic resistance in pathogens quickly find disagreement among various stakeholder groups.
However, a movement toward dialogue and cooperation could replace the “fortress” mentality and potentially lead to science-based policies that protect human health and animal health in the long term.
In November 2013, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) hosted a conference in Kansas City titled “Bridging the Gap between Animal Health and Human Health,” involving representatives from the human medical community, veterinary medicine, industry and consumer-advocacy groups.
Richard Raymond, MD, former undersecretary for food safety with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, moderated the discussions. He led off by noting common but misleading statements from each side of the issue. Critics of agriculture regularly state that livestock account for 80 percent of all antibiotic use in the United States, a figure Raymond said is misleading and untrue. Supporters of animal agriculture, on the other hand, use the argument that all use of antibiotics in livestock is under the control and direction of veterinarians, which also is misleading and untrue. Raymond said we need to move the discussion away from polarized positions and misinformation, toward more honest, open dialogue.
The human-medicine perspective
The conference kicked off from the perspective of the human medical community, with presentations on antimicrobial resistance from physicians and scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state health departments and academia. These helped set the stage for the rest of the conference by providing background on the history and current state of antimicrobial resistance.
Steven Solomon, MD, director of the office of antibiotic resistance at the CDC, said the centers recently released the first scientific report of the incidence of antibiotic-resistant diseases in the United States, estimating a minimum of more than 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually due to resistant pathogens. Solomon said antibiotic resistance could be the most complex problem in public health, due to the interactions between pathogens, humans, animals and drugs.