COMPLEXITY was the keyword in takeaway messages from "Bridging the Gap Between Animal Health & Human Health," a white paper from the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA).
The white paper, released last week, summarizes 20 presentations and discussions from the NIAA symposium by experts representing a broad spectrum from animal and human health to consumer advocacy organizations to grocery retailers.
Held Nov. 12-14, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo., the NIAA symposium was a continuation of discussions that commenced with the symposiums in 2011 and 2012 on Antibiotic Use in Food Animals and A One Health Approach to Antimicrobial Use & Resistance.
"Antibiotic resistance has been called the single most complex problem in public health, and this symposium provided respective health communities and disciplines a platform where they shared their latest research findings," Western Kentucky University professor Dr. Nevil Speer said.
"This year's antibiotic use and resistance symposium not only shed additional light on this often polarized topic, but we identified common ground so a collective path forward that serves the best interests of all parties can be forged," Speer added.
Bridging the information gap starts with recognizing that the science behind antibiotics and the transfer of antibiotic resistance is a moving target.
"The science behind the emergence, amplification, persistence and transfer of antibiotic resistance is highly complex and open to interpretation — and sometimes misinterpretation — from a wide variety of perspectives and misuse," the white paper explains.
Individuals will decode conclusions and findings from research studies differently depending on their level of understanding of the science as well as their values and beliefs.
Recent independent consumer perception studies have found that consumers are more concerned about the safety and impact of antibiotics now than in the past. In addition, 4 in 10 consumers have lost trust in food, and a subgroup of consumers believes that animal agriculture puts profits before people.
In addition, a majority of consumers rely on the media and the internet as a source to find product information. Yet, too often, misunderstood information and perplexing jargon can further add to consumer confusion.
Food choices are based on emotion, and presenting science-based facts often lacks the necessary emotional tie to earn the trust of consumers.
As more and more consumers want full disclosure on antibiotic use in animal agriculture, transparency is a must at all levels, according to the NIAA paper.
Equally important to the different interpretations of the science on the issue is acknowledging the two main premises to the extremely multifaceted relationship among animal health, human health and environmental health:
1. Antimicrobial resistance is a naturally occurring phenomenon that is present with or without the use of antimicrobials, and
2. As an antibiotic enters the ecosystem, it has the potential to contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is not limited to the U.S. but is an international issue as well.
Still, the debate over the amounts of antibiotics sold or used distracts from the main issue, which is the sensible use of antimicrobials and the significant impact on human health.
Properly evaluating antimicrobial resistance should involve balancing risks versus needs. Decisions and policy should be grounded in science, according to the white paper.
From this point forward, the paper suggests, solving the antibiotic resistance issue will require a collaborative effort that should include open dialogue from the human health, animal health and environmental health sectors.