Among veterinarians, prudent antibiotic use is of great concern. It turns out that we have plenty in common on this issue with medical doctors.

I’m a cattle vet from Missouri. At a recent party in northern California, I spoke with a progressive-minded physician who specializes in hematology and internal medicine. Her first question to me was, “Do you have a strong feeling about FDA Guidance 213?”

Guidance 213 dictates judicious antimicrobial use in food-producing animals by extending veterinary oversight and eliminating the sub-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture.

Naturally, my first thought was that she was setting me up to give her own opinion on the subject. The guidance has been widely criticized for “not doing enough.” It turned out she really wanted to know my professional thoughts. I figured that if I had someone who was truly willing to listen, I owed her my honest opinion.

I explained that I looked at the guidance as a positive step. Veterinarians need to be involved and accountable for all antibiotics used in beef cattle production. In my opinion, more oversight is the right thing to do. I shared situations where antibiotic resistance issues were real, and how I responded as a veterinarian – like during an outbreak of enteric disease in newborn calves when the traditional antibiotic culture and diagnostic information failed to lead to long-term solutions. This particular situation highlighted the soberness of the outbreak at hand.

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We also discussed examples of appropriate use and oversight, and cases where changes in management and preventive medicine programs successfully reduced the need for therapy. I explained to her that veterinarians are trained not only to deal with the strict medical side of disease problems but also to investigate how the environment and production systems interact with disease processes.

Often, the long-term solutions we implement preempt the need for antibiotic use in the first place. She was interested to hear, for instance, how changing pasture management strategies built immunity and lowered exposure, drastically reducing the need for antibiotics to near zero. As a result, when antibiotics are needed, they are much more effective.