Back in November 2013, the National Institute of Animal Agriculture (NIAA) hosted a symposium titled “Bridging the Gap between Animal Health and Human Health,” intended as a multi-stakeholder forum for discussion on the use of antibiotics, antibiotic resistance and a path forward for animal agriculture focused on a commitment to long-term animal health and human health.

The conference brought together representatives from veterinary medicine, human medicine, pharmaceutical companies, livestock production, consumer groups and food retailers. This week, NIAA released a white paper summarizing the discussions that took place throughout the conference.

“Having a tug-of-war of human versus agricultural use of antibiotics doesn’t advance a solution says Nevil Speer, PhD, Western Kentucky University, and a member of the symposium planning committee. “This paper underscores the importance of taking a 360-degree view and addressing antibiotic resistance from an all-inclusive, science based perspective.”

Some key messages from the symposium, as outlined in the white paper, include:

  • The science behind the emergence, amplification, persistence and transfer of antibiotic resistance is highly complex and open to interpretation—and sometimes misinterpretation—from a wide variety of perspectives and misuse.
  • The extremely complex relationship between animal health, human health and environmental health is driven by two premises: 1) Antimicrobial resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon that is present with or without the use of antimicrobials; and 2) Anytime an antibiotic enters the ecosystem, it has the potential to contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance.
  • Antibiotic resistance is not just a U.S. challenge; it’s an international issue that requires a strategic global One Health approach.
  • Evaluating antimicrobial resistance involves balancing risks vs. needs while constantly recognizing the importance of maintaining an efficacious arsenal of human antibiotics.
  • New tools that address food animal infectious diseases must be developed, whether they are in the field of prevention or new molecules for therapeutics.
  • Research studies and findings are often viewed through different lenses. Individuals can look at the same study and interpret the study very differently from each other based on their understanding of the science as well as their values and beliefs.
  • Decisions and policy should be grounded in science, and policy should be based on science. The question, however, is who decides what should be considered when making those decisions and policies. For effective interventions to complex problems, the solutions should be developed by including a broad representation of relevant stakeholders and their sometimes-competing perspectives and values.
  • Significant efforts are being led by the public health community to reduce inappropriate antibiotic prescribing in human health and reduce hospital-acquired infections. Agriculture needs to be open to change as well.

NIAA plans to continue to provide leadership on the issue and establish a platform to develop further collaboration toward science-based solutions for antibiotic resistance. “Antibiotic resistance is a comprehensive issue and doesn’t derive from any single source,” the authors note. “As such, it is best addressed from a systems-based approach that strives to close gaps of misunderstanding and avoid implementing impetuous remedies that may produce meaningless solutions.

Read the full white paper from NIAA.