Livestock Medication: Today and Tomorrow

Within every industry, there are competing ideologies. The solutions that will unify these views are rarely as simple as we’d wish them it to be. The livestock industry is no exception; should we treat and manage livestock to prevent disease, or use medication to treat the disease after the animal has become infected? There is, unfortunately, no clear consensus on this issue as the margins between different regulations in one country compared to another can be paper thin.

Major livestock producing countries have a clear set of rules and regulations to determine what medications can and can’t be used within the industries. It’s interesting that the countries reliant on exporting livestock products use less medication and antibiotics than countries who produce food for their domestic market (Exporting – Animal Feed and Animal Drugs). Exporting countries have to comply with protocols issued by importing countries; quite often these protocols are more stringent than their domestic requirements.

Countries that have a very low level of product trace back through the supply chain, typically follow reactive measures. They wait till an animal is sick and then treat only this animal and not the entire group. This “less is more” approach is in contrast to developing countries, in which “more is more” is the go-to strategy. Even smaller herds in developing countries are being encouraged to provide more medication, to stem the spread of disease to larger producers in the same country.

The consumer demand

So why do agriculture exporting countries use fewer medications? Regulations are being driven by a growing consumer need for products, which contain approved medications that meet the foreign purchaser’s specifications. This could be a logical decision or just an emotional response to the consumers’ needs.

The impact of this can be seen in Canada’s 14 year plan (Medicating meat: What’s Canada’s plan for animal antibiotics?) to reduce the amount of antibiotics used in the livestock industry. But it is not just the consumers who are pushing for change, the producers themselves are just as desperate for an alternative strategy. They’ve seen that the drugs aren’t working as well as they should be and are seeking better options.

Antibiotic resistance in the livestock industry

One of the biggest hot-button issues is that of medication resistance in both livestock and humans. This is an issue faced by all pharmaceutical companies. However, regarding a tangible link between eating animals treated with certain antibiotics and a detrimental antibiotic resistance effect on humans, we still don’t have an answer. Studies are ongoing, and the industry is hoping that data can shed some light on this concern, one way or the other.

My personal take

I’m certainly not here to say we shouldn’t eat meat. In fact, the average person’s diet consists of much more harmful products than a medium rare steak served with a salad.

We need to do a better job of educating people on what is being used on animals and then justify why those measures are being taken. There needs to be greater support to the livestock industry, with more solutions that are designed to bridge the gap between consumer and producer. These solutions need to be easy to implement and fully supported, with the added benefit of producers reducing costs while increasing efficiency and profit.

I feel that any advances have to accommodate farms of all sizes, whether they are in developed or developing countries.

A good solution fixes a problem. A great solution fixes a problem for everyone.

– David Edwards

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