Is the government doing enough on the role of agriculture in antibiotic resistance?

The use of antibiotics in agriculture was a key part of first public meeting of the Presidential Advisory Council on Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria held yesterday; the product of an Executive Order to implement a National Strategy on combatting antibiotic resistance. Although the council has been welcomed, there has been some controversy over the views of members chosen to represent the agriculture sector. Representatives from the FDA and USDA highlighted that data about on-farm use of antibiotics was still missing, and is required before conclusions can be drawn about the role of farms in antibiotic resistance. The FDA, USDA and CDC are holding a public meeting today to address how to collect on-farm data about antibiotic use.

GENeS asked experts for their opinions on antibiotic use in agriculture, and the actions of government agencies.


Dr. Terry Lehenbauer, Director, UC Davis Veterinary Medicine Teaching & Research Center (webpage):

Expertise: Dairy cattle herd health and production medicine with an emphasis on infectious disease epidemiology, risk management and animal health economics

“Perhaps one of the most common misunderstandings related to this topic of antimicrobial use in animal agriculture is thinking that the restriction of use of medically important antimicrobials in animal feed for purposes of growth promotion or feed efficiency is voluntary.  While it is true that all sponsors of those antimicrobial products have agreed voluntarily to comply with the request by FDA to remove claims about growth promotion and feed efficiency from their labels (or withdraw the product altogether from the market), once the labels have been changed it will be illegal to use those products in that manner. 

“Because of these changes made by FDA and the pharmaceutical industry, after December 2016 it will no longer be legal to use those antimicrobials in feed for growth promotion, and all therapeutic uses of those antimicrobials in feed will require direct veterinary oversight through a veterinary feed directive, which is similar to a veterinary prescription.  On that particular point, the Obama Administration should get a grade of an A, not an F.

“Regarding any controversy surrounding the experts on the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, I personally know Dr. Randy Singer and Dr. Mike Apley who are two of the veterinarians on the board who both have connections to animal agriculture.  Perhaps the strongest statement that I can make related to the board composition and needed antimicrobial policy changes is that I would fully trust these two individuals for not only my own future health and well-being but also for that of my immediate family including my infant grandson.”


Dr. Guy H. Loneragan, Professor of Food Safety and Public Health, Texas Tech University (webpage):

Expertise: practices that can be implemented in complex agri-food systems to effect meaningfully control food-borne pathogens and antimicrobial drug resistance.

“At the core of what we hope to do is to preserve the efficacy of antibiotics into the future. If we can achieve this, it means that the antibiotics we have today in human and veterinary medicine will remain effective for future generations. This concept of stewardship requires active participation by all of us involved in animal production. The President’s Advisory Council is one of several activities being undertaken toward this end, such as removing growth promotion claims and increasing veterinary oversight of medically important drugs. These activities ought to be viewed as a continuum of actions designed to preserve the efficacy of antibiotic drugs for the benefit of all of society – both now and in the future.”


Dr. Mo Salman, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology, Colorado State University (webpage):

Expertise: infectious animal disease and prevention and response measures. 

“There is a need to show how the proposed further data collection would help in building better policy for the application of antimicrobial in food producing animals. It is not clear how the data would be used for future assessment of the application of the antimicrobial in food producing animals. Lessons gained from the collection of such data by other countries such as Denmark and The Netherland should be considered prior to collection of the data without specific aims. Furthermore, the application of the antimicrobial uses in food animals requires scientific comparison to such application in other sectors such as human therapy, and environmental uses including low level of application in specific products, and other animal species. Such comparisons require data from other uses in addition to food producing animals.

“The fact that the world is flat in terms of trade and movement of people and animals should be considered prior to applying local/national policy or measures. Currently we are limiting our data collection and observations to the USA situation. Our knowledge on the relative contribution of the application of antibiotics in food animals in the USA as part of the global problem is very limited. Animals and their products are moving globally. therefore both the impact of application and/or the implementation of a national policy in the USA should be assessed for its global significance.”


Dr. Martin Wiedmann, Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety, Cornell University (webpage):

Expertise: understanding the pathogenesis, ecology, evolution, and transmission of bacterial foodborne and zoonotic diseases.

“This is a pretty complex issue with no simple solutions in sight. I think almost anyone will agree that we need to minimize and ultimately eliminate use of antibiotics for growth promotion, but developing a coherent strategy for therapeutic use and understanding the contributions of therapeutic use to antibiotic resistance will be a lot more difficult. Just collecting more data without a clear plan on what to do with the data may in fact not be of much help.”


Declared interests (see GENeS register of interests policy):

Dr. Terry Lehenbauer: “Research grant funding currently being provided by these agencies: USDA-NIFA, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, California Dairy Research Foundation. Volunteer Leadership Activities: AVMA  Council of Biologic and Therapeutic Agents, AABP Antibiotic Stewardship Task Force.

“During previous years, I was supported by American Cyanamid (approximately 1988-1990) for conducting clinical research in dairy cattle for a new animal drug application for bovine somatotropin.  This product was not approved and was not marketed by American Cyanamid.

“In 1994-95, I was principal investigator for Elanco Animal Health for a clinical research project designed to gain FDA approval for use of rumensin in feed (an ionophore antimicrobial compound NOT medically important for use in humans) for lactating dairy cattle.  FDA granted approval for this use of rumensin based on data from my project and 6 other similar projects conducted across the U.S. and Canada during that time period.”

Dr. Guy H. Loneragan:G.H.L. has provided scientific advice to various pharmaceutical companies that market antimicrobial drugs for administration to animals. He has on occasion billed for his service. G.H.L. has also received honoraria and travel support for service on advisory boards and presentations from pharmaceutical companies. 

No further interests declared.



Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Public Meeting.

FDA/USDA/CDC Collecting On-Farm Antimicrobial Use and Resistance Data Public Meeting.


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