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Food retailers push new antibiotic-use policies after NIAA

Laura Handke for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 January 2019
Eric Moore, DVM

On the heels of the eighth annual National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s Antibiotic Symposium, held Nov. 13-15 in Overland Park, Kansas, both Wendy’s and McDonald’s released updated policies and concerns regarding the beef both companies are sourcing, namely, in regards to the antibiotics producers are using to keep those animals healthy.

Partnering with the Manhattan, Kansas-based Beef Marketing Group’s Progressive Beef program, Wendy’s has promised their customers a new approach to the sustainability and traceability of the beef their restaurants serve. The chain looks to incorporate sourced beef from Progressive Beef into 50 percent of its supply chain by 2021, with commitments launched to begin sourcing the third-party audited beef in 2019.

A staple of the Progressive Beef program, the judicious use of antibiotics with thorough recordkeeping and under the supervision of a veterinarian, combined with a strict adherence to withdrawal times and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), will allow the company to better communicate how cattle used in the chain are raised, the company believes.

One day prior to Wendy’s announcement, McDonald’s announced a plan to reduce the need for antibiotics in food animal productions by sourcing raw materials through progressive farming practices that incorporate preventative medicine strategies, farm hygiene practices and responsible animal husbandry and vaccination programs.

McDonald’s Director of Quality Assurance Ernie Meier said, “McDonald’s is on an antimicrobial stewardship journey and will continue to work to develop specific policies for every protein the chain [McDonald’s] serves.”

Ernie Meier

As the director of the three-person team that manages the protein categories that service more than 14,000 U.S. restaurants, Meier said that, as a company, McDonald’s is not looking for a “never-ever” approach to antibiotics but is looking for policies that ensure their judicious and responsible use throughout the life of an animal.

“We are very careful about how we market our ‘no antibiotics important to human medicine’ policies. We want the best thing for the animals, and that means allowing the use of ionophores while reducing the antibiotic footprint,” Meier said, in referring to the company’s prior commitment within the poultry industry.

The NIAA symposium didn’t just provide updates and presentations on antibiotic stewardship efforts, however. The three-day gathering of both human and animal health professionals delivered a resounding message of networking across all sectors of plant, animal, human and soil health.

Why, when and which dose

“It is incredibly important vet medicine and food supply frequently talk to human health-interested people about the things we are doing right,” said Rick Sibbel, DVM. During his moderation of the “Looking Ahead – Science and Data” panel, Sibbel told those in attendance, largely comprised of large-animal veterinarians, “Never be afraid to carry your vet, animal health voice into a human conversation.” As the president and CEO of Executive Veterinary and Health Solutions LLC, Sibbel consults for both veterinary and human health in antimicrobial resistance and antibiotic stewardship.

Sibbel, who recently retired as the technical services director for Merck Animal Health, said the conversation between human health professionals and animal health professionals is where the advancements are made, and the sharing of information, across the two sectors, provides for a better understanding of antimicrobial resistance.

Brian Lubbers agreed and, as the director of the clinical microbiology section of the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, he spends a considerable amount of time researching and reviewing antimicrobial stewardship practices and therapy, and their relationship to antimicrobial resistance in food animals.

Lubbers said today there are still more questions than answers when it comes to antibiotic dosing and resistance, across all species. He said the question that continues to be posed is: Do the benefits of antibiotic therapy outweigh the risks of antibiotic exposure or the risk of not treating, by an acceptable margin, in this particular patient?

“We have to define acceptable risk, and that is a hard thing to do – I know I want to be at the table when people are deciding if I have access to antibiotics. No one wants to be the one who draws that line in the sand because you can’t change those decisions when it’s you or your grandma [who] is sick,” he says.

“Everyone has different tolerances for [antibiotic resistance], and those risks are all based on other factors; it is the same for livestock.”

Lubbers said while we may not be able to draw a nice neat line in the sand to determine risk and its inherent resistance implications, we can use diagnostics to help us determine antibiotic dosage.

“Every time we prescribe, we should be thinking, ‘What is the dosing regimen that will provide the greatest clinical efficacy and lowest probability of resistance?’” he said. “‘Is there a balance in dosing where we get the positive benefit of an outcome but reduce the risk of resistance pressure?’”

Stewardship through prevention

Merck Animal Health’s Judson Vasconcelos, who heads up the Merck Animal Health Veterinary and Consumer Affairs team, said the company’s approach is more about prevention than treating.

“Our shared goal is antimicrobial stewardship,” said Vasconcelos, “but as a priority of antimicrobial [antibiotic] stewardship, we need to be looking at how we can keep animals from getting sick in the first place. For a healthy animal, the very best stewardship is to vaccinate and prevent the disease.”

strewardship begins with vaccinations

However, Vasconcelos said while the company stands by its commitment to stewardship through vaccine efficacy and diligence, they are not walking away from antibiotics.

“We are a serial science-based company, and we will continue to look at biologicals that are better than the ones we have today,” he said.

A significant element in the way Merck is looking at biologicals is by looking at new technologies.

“We are looking at technologies not related to products through a new Animal Health Venture service. These technologies, services and products are not pharma related but help our customers to be successful in keeping their animals healthy,” Vasconcelos said.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Eric Moore, DVM, shares his grandfather’s veterinary kit to exemplify the changes the practice has undergone. Photo by Laura Handke.

PHOTO 2: Ernie Meier, director of quality, McDonald’s Corp., discusses the impact the 14,000 U.S. McDonald’s restaurants have on the protein supply chain. Photo by Laura Handke.

PHOTO 3: For the best health of the animal, stewardship begins with vaccinations. Photo by David Cooper.

Laura Handke is a freelance writer based in Kansas.

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