Antibiotics in animals FAQ

Are foods from animals treated with antibiotics safe to eat?
Yes. Before regulatory authorities approve antibiotics, they conduct a scientific review to determine safety for the animal, for the people who consume food from those animals, and for the environment. An outcome of this process is a strict set of rules regarding which approved antibiotics farmers can use to treat their animals, in what dose, and for how long. These rules also dictate the period of time it takes to effectively eliminate the antibiotic from the animal’s body before any milk or meat from these animals reach consumers.

Are there antibiotics in my milk or meat?
Regulatory agencies rigorously test milk, meat and poultry products to prevent harmful residues from reaching consumers. Milk and meat from animals being treated with approved antibiotics are not allowed to enter the food supply until the antibiotic is effectively eliminated from the animal’s system.

Does antibiotic use on farms cause antibiotic resistance?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the most serious pathogens contributing to antibiotic resistance are not related to antibiotics used in food animals. The concern over reduced effectiveness of antibiotics is real and needs to be addressed based on a clear understanding of what’s causing the problem and the viable solutions. All those involved — the human-, animal- and environmental-health communities — are taking responsibility and working together to develop long-term, sustainable solutions.

Is it true that 80 percent of antibiotics are used on farms?
Looking at percentages of antibiotics used in animals based on total weight or volume alone is deceiving, since the size and weight of animals vary dramatically. Each dose of an antibiotic administered by a veterinarian or farmer is based on the animal’s weight to ensure effectiveness. In fact, pound for pound, humans and their pets use 10x the amount of antibiotics used in food animals. Our collective focus needs to be on where the potential risk is greatest. According to the CDC, the most serious pathogens are not related to antibiotics used in food animals.

Who regulates antibiotics?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) has a stringent approval process for veterinary medicines and antibiotics — much like that for human medications. In fact, antibiotics used in animals require the same testing as those used in humans, with the additional requirement that they must be tested to ensure meat and milk from the animal given the medicine will be safe for human consumption.

Why don’t we move to all antibiotic-free production?
We have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure responsible animal care and well-being, which includes good management practices such as proper housing, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, and humane handling. No longer allowing the use of antibiotics in animals would negatively affect veterinarians’ ability to protect animal health and prevent suffering from disease, which can lead to poor animal well-being.

Have other countries eliminated antibiotic use in food animals?
No country has eliminated all antibiotic use in animals. Antibiotics are still used to treat sick animals in all countries. Countries globally are advancing new regulations that more closely align on how antibiotics are regulated. This is a process through which regulatory authorities, scientific experts, veterinarians and farmers are working together so they can best ensure that antibiotics are responsibly used when needed.

Courtesy of Elanco Animal Health
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