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Farm Animals the Link Between Antibiotic Use and Resistance?
USAgNet - 09/28/2016

"Everyone hopes for a simple, straight forward answer to every problem," says Dr. M.A. McCrackin, a featured speaker at the upcoming 6th Annual NIAA Antibiotics Symposium. "It would be satisfying, but there is just not a simple solution to combating antibiotic resistance."

McCrackin, DVM, PhD, is the Veterinary Medical Officer and Associate Professor of Comparative Medicine at the Charleston VA Medical Center Research Service and Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and is the lead scientist and author on a recently published MUSC team study examining the link between antibiotic use in farm animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.

"Health providers, vets in private practice, all of the professionals who have a legal authority to prescribe need to be more and more thoughtful," says McCrackin, who was formerly in practice as a veterinarian. "In earlier years, we didn't realize there was a negative side to prescribing an antibiotic. It's Friday afternoon and the client is pressuring you to do 'something.' It is understandable if it seemed at the time as if it couldn't hurt."

The first Antibiotics Symposium hosted by National Institute for Animal Agriculture was in 2011, as concern from scientists, consumers and the media about antibiotic resistance began to grow and the animal agriculture industry began to look at what impact it might have on the problem. The newest installment of the Symposium will be this Nov. 1-3 in Herndon, Va.

"The topic is particularly relevant today," says McCrackin. "Bacteria, viruses and fungi affect animals and people. We talk about how there may not be a single solution, but we do have a common problem. It's going to take people from all interest groups to deal with this problem."

Participants and presenters at the NIAA Symposium will be from across animal agriculture, public health and governmental regulatory agencies. This year's theme, "Antibiotic Use -- Working Together for Better Solutions" emphasizes exchanging information and giving the broadest spectrum of stakeholders a place to be heard and participate in the on-going discussion.

"We all want healthy animals, high quality food, safety and affordability," explains McCrackin. "We want humane treatment dealing with sick animals. We have to find a balance among keeping animals healthy, food safe and affordable, and preserving efficacy of antibiotics used to treat animals and humans."

McCrackin's study, Effect of Antimicrobial Use in Agricultural Animals on Drug-resistant Foodborne Campylobacteriosis in Humans: A Systematic Literature Review, published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, focuses on one bacterium. "We have a huge challenge globally," says McCrackin. "Research on one bacterium may seem small compared to the problem, but it has to start somewhere. We took a small slice; took a year to evaluate research spanning 4 1/2 years from the US, Canada and Denmark. There is still much more to be done."

McCrackin is looking forward to the exchange of ideas at the upcoming NIAA Symposium. "We need to collect more and more information to be able to see the whole story, really from farm to table. It is not easy to do studies that can do that, to trace an individual animal through the whole process. What level of bacteria is found when in the process and how much resistance is at what point?"

"The agriculture and health care industries, along with the scientific community and government regulatory agencies, must work collaboratively with the human health community in order to ensure safe, humane, and affordable food sources to the public," McCrackin concludes. The NIAA Antibiotics Symposium offers the opportunity to work together towards that goal. NIAA's website,, has information on presenters, agenda and registration.

NIAA provides a forum for building consensus and advancing proactive solutions for animal agriculture--the aquaculture, beef, dairy, equine, goats, poultry, sheep and swine industries--and provides continuing education and communication linkages for animal agriculture professionals. NIAA is dedicated to programs that work towards the eradication of disease that pose risk to the health of animals, wildlife and humans; promote a safe and wholesome food supply for our nation and abroad; and promote best practices in environmental stewardship, animal health and well-being. NIAA members represent all facets of animal agriculture.

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