By Kindra Gordon
How can the beef industry improve efforts for judicious use of antibiotics? Five industry representatives shared their thoughts during a panel discussion at the 2019 Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans. Here’s what they had to say:
Mark Harms, a seedstock producer at Lincolnville, Kan., noted that he has the opportunity to interact with variety of producers and reports “some are very aware, some are not,” regarding antimicrobial stewardship. “There is a lot of fear [among producers] that the government is coming down on us and is going to take away our weapons [antibiotics],” Harms stated.
“In my opinion, fear shouldn’t be the focus. Instead, we need to work on doing things right and choosing responsible use [of antibiotics].”
Tom Talbot, a veterinarian and cow calf operator at Bishop, Calif., noted that the cow-calf sector only uses 1.5% of all antibiotics in industry today. “That’s good that it is a small amount; the calf doesn’t suffer many stresses until it leaves the ranch,” Talbot said. But he added, “However, the health report back from the feeder, it’s an eye opener.”
Thus, Talbot suggests the cow-calf sector must ask, “What can we do to aid those up the chain to minimize use of antibiotics down the road?” He calls for “getting the basics done on the ranch” – such as castration and preconditioning – so animals can be as healthy as possible as the move to the feedyard.
He continued, “We [cow-calf producers] need to recognize that young and not weaned – that’s a high-risk calf. We need preconditioning and backgrounding to get animals off their mothers, that’s what it’s all about. We need to be conscious of what the next guy up the chain has to deal with.”
Representing the feedlot sector, Tom Portillo, veterinarian and manager of animal health for Friona Industries, stated, “To become better stewards of antimicrobials, we must decrease the number of sick animals. … to me that’s got to be the focus.”
Portillo advocates doing a better job in three areas to decrease cattle morbidity. They are risk assessment, case definition and population management.
He describes risk assessment as gathering information on where cattle have been and how they were handled. With that history, he says feeders can better plan pen density, feed and health protocols.
“Traditionally, no one has worked very hard to get much background information. If we shared more background information through the production chain, I think we could manage more effectively. It would allow us to minimize antibiotic use by minimizing disease.”
Second, Portillo calls case definition, “a big factor going forward.” He noted that currently, treatment of a certain percent of false positives is acceptable, but said, “We can’t be as liberal with that in the future.”
He added, “The opinion ‘I think he’s sick’ is too subjective. Rectal temperature and weight loss are pretty good objective indicators, but we are going to need more chuteside tools for diagnosis to justify use of antibiotics.”
Portillo says positional behavior technologies that track frequency of animals going to water and feed offer potential to improve case definition, and he reports that an electronic stethoscope is available but accuracy and applicability have been questionable. He also anticipates chuteside blood tests will eventually be developed. He says, “We have to get technologies that are rapid, accurate and affordable.”
Regarding population management, Portillo indicated that protocols for acclimating animals upon arrival – to new herd mates, pen conditions and ration changes – are also important to minimize disease risk and need for antibiotics.
That said, Portillo also emphasized, “Yes, we do need to minimize antibiotic use, but when there is a need for using them, we must also make sure we do so in a responsible, legal manner.” He called for administering antibiotics as labeled and with consideration to residues, withdrawal times, and food safety.
Lastly, regarding supplier and retailer claims on sourcing “antibiotic-free” proteins, Portillo commented, “I’ve been disappointed in claims some retailers are making because they are either unrealistic or we [the beef industry] are already doing some of those things. It creates a lot of confusion [with consumers]. For the future, I think the beef industry needs to define what antimicrobial stewardship is…We design it and we build it, and then it becomes the standard.”
Glenn Rogers, veterinarian and current president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), said antimicrobial stewardship requires “the right attitude” by everyone within the beef industry. He added, “There needs to be a concern about the potential for unintended consequences. Management must use antibiotics strategically and not as a crutch.”
Given the positive press the industry’s Environmental Stewardship Award program has received, Rogers suggested a similar effort could be designed to recognize those operations that have reduced antibiotic use and moved toward antimicrobial stewardship. “Let’s put it front and center,” he said.
Bob Smith, veterinarian and Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Advisory Group chairman, stated his belief to reduce antibiotic use “requires systems thinking, including things such as biosecurity and biocontainment.” Smith outlined this should include education of employees for clinical signs, follow up by management, and managing stress of animals through appropriate timing of protocols.
One step toward that effort he says, “We have to time things [like vaccinations] to manage around stress to get a payback from using them.”
In addition to training through BQA, Smith encouraged producers and feeders to form a relationship with their veterinarian and get them involved in the operation. He points to nutritionists as a resource as well, and suggests involving them to teach pen riders what to look for in manure as an indicator of sick animals or those eating improperly.
Smith also sees a need for improved chuteside diagnostics and says the industry must develop a better system to quantify the need and use – or decreased use – of antibiotics.
Eventually, he hopes the availability of better vaccines to prevent disease, along with genetic selection for heritability of health [or disease resistance] will exist. “We need to support gene editing; it offers a great potential opportunity to reduce our use of antibiotics,” he said.
“I’m excited that over the next 10 years we are likely to see several new technologies developed for a better systems approach to antimicrobial stewardship.”