What products do we have that are labeled for analgesia (pain control) in food animals? The answer is none.
It isn’t that scientists aren’t working on this issue, however. One of the primary reasons we have no drugs labeled for analgesia in food animals is because we’ve struggled to identify a method to measure pain levels  consistently and adequately; without that, you can’t measure a reduction in pain.
Pain management  is an issue we must continue to address, before it is addressed for us. There’s no doubt that castration  and dehorning are painful procedures. There’s also no doubt these procedures, which one activist group refers to as “painful mutilations,” will garner the most concern from consumers who have become more inquisitive about how their food is produced.
Research at Kansas State University (KSU) by DVM Dan Thomson , however, indicates that local anesthesia provides little true benefit for pain management in surgically castrated calves. This work also showed that surgically castrated calves had lower feed intake than banded calves, but only for the first 14 days of the study. After this, the surgically castrated calves had higher feed intakes than the banded calves, indicating that discomfort from the banding procedure occurred late in the process.
Considerable research has also been performed by KSU’s Johann Coetzee regarding cattle pain management using an experimental drug. This drug appeared to offer promise in providing long-lasting analgesia for such procedures as castration and dehorning.
Coetzee found this drug, when administered prior to dehorning, increased weight gain in calves after dehorning. Another study showed calves receiving the experimental drug 24 hours prior to surgical castration tended to have a lower incidence of respiratory disease.
While positive weight gain and increased disease resistance aren’t direct measurements of pain, they’re certainly indicative of stress, which increases when an animal is in pain. The use of this experimental drug in calves would be an extra-label drug use (ELDU). It would have to be administered individually to each animal, and is not water soluble.
The topic of ELDU has received considerable attention recently. In a nutshell, ELDU is the use of a drug in any way that isn’t consistent with how it’s labeled to be used. An example would be if a drug was labeled for use as a fever reducer, but was administered to an animal for the purpose of pain control.
Most of the recent attention to ELDU has been aimed at restricting veterinarians’ opportunities to exercise this privilege (see “Cephalosporins Aren’t Withdrawn From The Market ” in February 2012 BEEF). Some anti-animal agriculture groups have strongly supported restricting this privilege.
Specific conditions must be met for ELDU. They include:
- ELDU is permitted only by or under the supervision of a veterinarian.
- It’s allowed only for FDA-approved animal and human drugs.
- It’s permitted only when the health of the animal is threatened and not for production purposes.
- It’s prohibited in feed.
- ELDU is not permitted if it results in a violative food residue.
These conditions are designed to keep our food safe. While the drug described above meets these conditions, shouldn’t we be able to manage pain in food animals without going extra-label?
Our industry must continue to address this issue. We need to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop cost-effective pain management options . We need to let our elected officials know that pain management is an issue we would like to address, so they can encourage the Food and Drug Administration to make it a priority.
The world is run by those who show up. If we don’t show up on issues such as pain management, I’m certain there are some groups who would be very happy to stand in for us.
Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is director of animal health for Cattle Empire, LLC, of Satanta, KS. He can be reached at [email protected]