Q&A: Antibiotics and Antibiotic Resistance in the Food Supply

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The health of animals is very important to the farmers and ranchers who raise them, as well as the veterinarians who work with them. Despite this, animals may still become sick and require treatment, just like people. Read on to learn more about antibiotic use in the food supply.

  • What are antimicrobials?
    Antimicrobial products block the growth of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. These products are important to treat disease or illness in food producing animals when it occurs.  A safe and healthy food supply begins with healthy animals.
  • What are antibiotics?
    Antibiotics are antimicrobial products that specifically kill or block the growth of bacteria.
  • How are antibiotics for animals regulated?
    For each proposed antibiotic, extensive efficacy, safety and environmental impact studies must be submitted to and reviewed by the FDA. For each approved antibiotic, the FDA reviews and approves the way it is administered (in water, in feed or by injection), the particular animal for which it can be used, and the specific diseases that the antibiotic treats.  The FDA also requires a withdrawal time period between the last use of the medicine and the time of harvest. 
  • When are antibiotics used?
    – To treat animals that are clinically ill;
    – To control the spread of disease; and, 
    – To prevent disease.
  • How are antibiotics administered?
    Antibiotics are administered with veterinary oversight or consultation to ensure that antibiotics are used in a judicious manner. 
  • Are antibiotic residues found in food products from animals treated with antibiotics?
    No. A specified withdrawal time for each antibiotic used ensures that the antibiotic has been cleared from the animal before entering the food supply. FDA, USDA and food processors routinely sample animal products to verify that farmers are adhering to withdrawal requirements. If residues are found, the milk or meat is destroyed and farmers are heavily fined, and in some cases, prosecuted.
  • What is antibiotic resistance?
    Antibiotic resistance occurs both in nature and with antibiotic use.  When this occurs, bacteria acquire the ability to reduce effectiveness to antibiotics, therefore bacteria are not killed or their growth is not blocked. Improper use of an antibiotic in animals or people can increase the risk of resistance.  Hence it is important to use antibiotics properly as prescribed.  

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