The term “farming” is most often applied to crops grown in the field, but when discussing the entire food chain, farming is just as aptly applied to the breeding and raising of food-producing animals. As such, a dialog about the future of farming, sustainability, and the ability to feed the world, would not be complete without some reference to animals; and any reference to animals today is not complete without discussion of antibiotic use.
While the topic tends to be highly controversial, Bayer’s Animal Health Head of Policy and Stakeholder Affairs Dr. Norbert Mencke of Monheim, Germany, provided a historic and balanced look at antibiotic use. When antibiotics first came into use, there weren’t other tools available to overcome disease. Antibiotics proved to be a valuable tool for protection and prevention, and as the growth benefits became apparent, their adoption grew. Then the human-health, antibiotic-resistance issues became evident and the movement for discontinued use began.
But, Mencke added, “there needs to be a balance.” Antibiotics should not be used in growth hormones or mixed with whole-herd feed for such purposes, but we do still need them for therapeutic use under the direction of a veterinarian. With today’s open borders around the world, veterinarians are seeing a lot of diseases that they have not seen in decades, for which antibiotics are the only viable option. Additionally, the challenges that smallholder farms are facing in animal disease and health are enormous, he said.
On the other hand, modern technologies and innovation have brought more options for farmers. “The way our grandfathers housed cattle is not the way it is done today; there have been significant improvements in housing,” Mencke said. And if you’re implementing a high standard in housing, hygiene, and feed, “the additional gain from antibiotics (for prevention) is negligible.”
So, Mencke sees it as the obligation of farmers and veterinarians to reduce antibiotic use, stating, “The demand from the people is there, and it is right.” But, we also have to understand its importance when there is a need. “No treatment; not doing anything definitely doesn’t help us either,” he said.