The yearly scorecard grades, or rankings, are out and yes one should be more pleased to get an ‘F’ than an ‘A’ on this scorecard. Why, simply noted, responsible animal care. Now beyond the headline graphic, more detailed analysis is critically important of the October 2019 report “Chain Reaction V: How top restaurants rate on reducing antibiotic use in their beef supplies.”
First, constructively, the report does begin with the need to responsibly use antibiotics. Second, it notes the need to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics. Thirdly, a focus is on the medically important antibiotics as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Generally, most can likely align with these three points as being good stewards for antibiotic use and animal care. The report focus is on U.S. operations and not globally, which aligns with the location of report source entities. And, it notes there are inherent complexities in compiling the scorecard. The primary focus is on beef, yet the report also includes an overall ranking as well.
The report focuses on the three areas of policy, implementation and transparency. In the area of policy, it notes, “The authors consider a company policy “meaningful” if it aligns with the following standard, which is consistent with the WHO guidelines issued in 2017 - “A publicly available company policy that prohibits the use of all antibiotics, or antibiotics in classes used in human medicine, for growth promotion and disease prevention. Treatment of sick animals and use to control a verified disease outbreak or for medical or surgical procedures are acceptable.” One must note, that these WHO guidelines were not deemed by many to be strongly science-based when issued back in 2017.
Now for the rub, in the survey question on ‘policy’ the following is asked, “For each meat category (beef, pork, turkey, chicken), please mark which of the three options best describes your company’s policy.” Then it goes on to offer the options of: 1) No antibiotics ever (raised without antibiotics), 2) No medically important* antibiotics ever and 3) No use of medically important antibiotics for routine disease prevention purposes **. And companies are asked to complete a “percent of product currently compliant with company policy” and “Company commits to fully implement policy by… (YEAR).” The asterisks are related to footnotes.
Interestingly, there are no questions seeking to understand farm level animal care needs or disease challenges. No questions seeking to understand species specific challenges. So, no insights gathered on if there is a need for and was an antibiotic used properly.
Expanding on the rub, if a farmer follows the no antibiotics ever, sick animals with a bacterial disease will die. If a farmer follows no medically important antibiotics ever, animal health will be compromised due to the inability to treat some bacterial diseases. If a farmer follows no use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention purpose, animal care will be compromised as known disease intervention practices will be eliminated. That is the rub, or for the animal maybe sickness, morbidity or death, mortality. Or for the animal, the ability to avoid a sickness completely via the responsible use of antimicrobials for prevention purposes.
In the survey questionnaire it states, “Note: compliance with FDA’s Guidance 213 does not count as an antibiotics policy.” One might ask, why does a company policy that aligns with a U.S. government science-based risk analysis approach not suffice for a policy?
Antibiotics, and more broadly antimicrobials, have demonstrated their benefits to help ensure proper animal care that minimizes morbidity and mortality. Farmers, along with veterinarians, make informed decisions each day on proper animal care by using antimicrobials to prevent, control or treat a disease. The farmer and veterinarian are in the best position to determine and ensure appropriate antimicrobial use; a far better position than ones looking from afar with no specific knowledge of the animal or bacterial disease.
The report references consumer preferences, which are important, but maybe some context should be considered. Consumer choice is good. Responsibly informed consumer choice is great. Responsibly informed consumer choice that provides for proper animal care is excellent.
As one thinks about corporations, corporations working with their supply chain is good. Corporations providing for science-based responsible animal care is excellent; an ‘A’. Corporations establishing policies that compromise animal care … not so good … or bad; an ‘F’! In the scorecard, undoubtedly, there is a continuum as one looks at the ranking. However, at a high level the rankings appear to diverge from a responsible antimicrobial use approach, as proffered initially in the report executive summary, to a strong non-use preference in the rankings.
Now ponder, pending how one interprets the scorecard inputs and analysis, do you want an ‘A’ or an ‘F’? If a company follows U.S. government policy and allows the use of those antimicrobials as approved by the U.S. government’s science-based regulatory process, which includes a complete risk analysis, and lets the farmer along with the veterinarian determine appropriate animal care, for this scorecard that will likely get you an ‘F’. If a company has a policy that prohibits all antibiotic use, through which sick animals with a bacterial infection will die, and transparently report such, for this scorecard that will likely get you an ‘A’. Definitely, the ‘F’ is better than the ‘A’.
Companies need to be engaged on behalf of their consumers. Engaging the food supply chain and relying upon the input of farmers, veterinarians and animal care experts is also critical. A sound antimicrobial policy should include three components: 1) antimicrobial stewardship and use principles and practices, 2) support for science-based government approved antimicrobial uses, as dictated by label indications for species, disease, dose and duration; and limits on use as determined by the regulatory authority risk analysis, and 3) respect for the role of farmers and veterinarians in responsible animal care decisions to address bacterial disease challenges. Company policies and practices aligned with this approach should get the ‘A’! Responsible policies and responsible use are key to maintaining antimicrobial use effectiveness long-term and to provide appropriate animal care.
Of interest, at the end of the survey there is a ‘beyond antibiotics’ section with questions about carbadox, beta-agonists, hormone implants and grass-fed. No information reported on these questions’ results so an undetermined on why such is inquired about. Hopefully, each will be considered within a science-based approach as each can have a role in responsibly and sustainable producing food globally.