Pathogen resistance and antibiotic use are important global issues. While antibiotic use in animals is just one part of the larger issue of growing resistance of human pathogens to antibiotics, it does impact cattle producers directly.

In an ongoing effort to enhance antibiotic use, as well as overall healthfulness of livestock, veterinary groups have developed and adopted prudent antibiotic use guidelines. Much of this information will be familiar to cattlemen, as they are contained in the national and state quality assurance programs that some cattlemen have been following for over a decade.

Each of the 1 million U.S. cattle operations must use antibiotics responsibly or all stand to lose these important tools. Let's look at the 13 points in the American Association of Bovine Practitioners' Prudent Drug Usage Guidelines.

13 Prudent Use Points The Guidelines' preamble reminds us that preventive immune system management is key to the production of safe and wholesome beef. This includes use of vaccines, parasiticides, stress reduction and proper nutritional management.

With proper and timely management practices, we can reduce the incidence of disease and thus reduce the need for antibiotics. But, even with a sound disease prevention plan, antibiotics remain a necessary tool to humanely and effectively manage infectious diseases in cattle.

* Point #1 talks about the veterinarian and cattle producer teaming up to design management, immunization, housing and nutritional programs that will reduce disease incidence and the need for antibiotics.

* Point #2 reminds us that prescription antibiotics should be used only within a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship. It also stresses that anytime you use an antibiotic in a manner other than exactly as listed on the label instructions (extra-label use), a veterinarian needs to be involved.

* Point #3 is about making sure we have an idea of what we are treating - a diagnosis. Many diseases share clinical signs, making diagnosis tricky. Your veterinarian can provide training in these matters, as wellas direct diagnostic support. Additionally, they can periodically monitor changes in microbial susceptibility that should influence antibiotic selections.

* Point #4 discusses the complexity of choosing antibiotics and developing a plan to use them. This involves combining information from package inserts, diagnostic lab and additional data in the literature, along with consideration of how the drug works, moves through the animal and is broken down. Your veterinarian can help you in these choices.

* Point #5 reminds us to use antibiotics at a dosage and duration appropriate for the condition being treated. The instructions provide directions, and deviation from these directions constitutes extra-label use.

* Point #6 suggests we avoid treatment of chronic cases where there's little chance for response. Working with your veterinarian to develop written treatment protocols can help you determine when to quit treatment.

* Point #7 states that, when appropriate, local therapy (e.g., intramammary, intrauterine, topical) is preferred over systemic therapy.

* Point #8 discourages combination antibiotic therapy unless there is information to show an increase in efficacy or suppression of resistance development for the target organism. Many of us are guilty of thinking that if one drug is good, two or three will be better. Oftentimes, this does not improve treatment response, but raises treatment costs, muddles our ability to determine which drug is getting the job done, and exposes bacteria to more antibiotics. Some drugs actually counteract other drugs when used together.

* Point #9 states that antibiotic use on groups should be a selective rather than standard practice. This is sound advice from an economic, as well as a prudent use standpoint.

* Point #10 stresses that veterinarians are legally required to rule out the effectiveness of label and extra-label use of approved antibiotics before using unapproved products, including their own concoctions. Producers should question the legality and rationale of such formulations, if they're offered.

* Don't stockpile antibiotics. Quantities of antibiotics prescribed or dispensed to you should be of appropriate size, as outlined in point #11.

* Veterinarians are required by law to participate in continuing education programs to maintain their licenses. Point #12 suggests that some of this work should address emergence and/or development of antibiotic resistance and prudent drug usage.

* Point #13 urges veterinarians to play an active role in training cattlemen on diagnosis of common diseases, indications for antibiotic use, dosage, withdrawal times, route of administration, injection site precautions, storage, handling and record keeping.

Clearly, cattlemen can do much to ensure antibiotic use in livestock is optimally effective and withstands outside scrutiny by those concerned that our use of antibiotics might be contributing to resistance in human pathogens. Developing and maintaining a productive working relationship with a veterinarian is a key. Having written herd health management and treatment programs can benefit you in several ways.

So what's the bottom-line? Scanning back over the 13 guides, you'll note that prudent drug use equates to good animal husbandry, sound business practices and using drugs legally. This is nothing new for responsible cattlemen. If you want to learn more about beef quality assurance, visit www.bqa.org.