Why Do Animals Need Antibiotics?
Having spent a number of years as a large animal veterinarian before joining the pharmaceutical industry, I apply insights from both professional perspectives to advance products and solutions that support livestock professionals and benefit the well-being and health of animals. I am convinced that until there are effective alternative approaches to alleviate infectious bacterial diseases, clinically-effective antibiotics will continue to play a vital role in ensuring the health of animals.
As a veterinarian, I care deeply for the well-being of all animals. Still, many people have prejudices when they hear that I work for Bayer, supporting medicines, including antibiotics, for farm animals. But I know that I’m in the right place to make a difference. My mission is to find general solutions that will enhance animal well-being and health, and to help restore health to those animals suffering from devastating diseases.
While I don’t currently have as many opportunities as I would like to engage directly with livestock professionals, I work with an incredible global team that is passionate about supporting improvements in animal husbandry. My education, knowledge and experience as a veterinarian certainly come in handy, too. It may seem counterintuitive, but we try to avoid diseases at their source by engaging with farmers to establish proper housing, management and nutrition for farm animals such as cattle, swine and poultry, and also in aquaculture. Measures to battle infections may include a different disinfection routine, improved management and – as a last option – administering different kinds of medical products when necessary.
is Head of Global Marketing Farm Animal Products at Bayer in Monheim, Germany.
Just like humans, animals can get sick. If this happens, farmers need solutions to overcome the disease and make sure that the vector does not infect other animals kept in the direct surroundings. In animal husbandry, farmers think about both the health of an individual animal and the health of the entire herd. This holistic approach is exactly what I, along with my colleagues around the world, support farmers to achieve – we are not just talking of products, but also about advancing animal well-being and health through innovative care and management, as well as educational and scientific outreach programs.
At Bayer, we’re working on several approaches to ensure animal health. One of our current topics in the US and Canada is developing immunostimulants. These are preventive medicines that strengthen the animal’s immune system, so they can avoid bacterial infections in the first place. But, sometimes, serious infections can’t be avoided. Then a sick animal deserves all the help that a human would get. For example, a cow with pneumonia will suffer and is likely to die if left untreated. Antibiotics are the only drugs that fight the bacterial cause of this infection; there are no alternatives available on the market at the moment. If the farmer uses these drugs in the recommended manner, which means the right antibiotic used in the appropriate dose and for the necessary duration, the cow may recover and feel well again.
Other examples of diseases that can impact a farmer’s herd are bovine mastitis, which is very common in dairy cows, diarrheal diseases and infections after delivery. This is when appropriate treatment, which may include the administration of antibiotics, becomes necessary. Otherwise, these sick animals would suffer and eventually die. To help avoid this, Bayer has equipped its team of field representatives and veterinarians to help advise farmers around the world in the responsible use of veterinary medicines, including antibiotics. As importantly, the team also actively shares best practices on various approaches to improve overall animal well-being, and health and herd management.
As Much as Necessary, As Little as Possible
At Bayer, we strongly advocate for the responsible use of antibiotics, and we have six guiding principles for their use in farm animals. We are convinced that an animal that is suffering from a bacterial infection deserves effective treatment with the suitable antibiotic, in the appropriate dose, and for the necessary duration.
I’m aware that some believe antibiotics are regularly given to farm animals to boost growth or to prevent infections, and that this is a widespread and indiscriminate practice all around the world. The reality is that regulators in many countries have already prohibited such use of antibiotics, and increasingly emphasize on alternative approaches and therapeutic antibiotic use.
Unfortunately, it is such inappropriate use of drugs that has led the public to fear that they would ingest residues of antibiotics in their food – for example, in their meat, eggs or milk. In Europe, we have strict regulation mechanisms to secure the safety of our food. This includes an obligatory waiting period after an animal has been treated with any medication, antibiotics included, before any of its products can enter the food chain. Additionally, regulators test animal products to ensure safety and quality before these items reach supermarkets.
Consumers who are concerned about food quality standards should keep in mind two things: first, that farmers are passionate about their profession. As importantly, they are also consumers. Farmers would not put themselves or their own children in danger. An interesting fact is that it’s not possible to produce fermented products such as yogurt and cheese if there are antibiotic residues in the milk. And the antibiotic would also kill the bacteria needed for the fermentation.
Of course, we also must consider concerns of the development of antibiotic resistance, which may occur when antibiotics are not used correctly, just like in human medicine. This is why we, at Bayer, strongly advocate of responsible antibiotic use. We believe that antibiotics are a valuable resource and that they should always be used responsibly in the interest of public and animal health.
My wish for the future is that the appreciation of farmers’ contribution to society, and the public perception of antibiotics, will improve. Antibiotics are not bad – they should just be used responsibly and only when necessary. We have the best interests of farm animals at heart, and we’re committed to contributing our scientific expertise and knowledge towards providing them a healthy life. In the end, we are all consumers, and all of us are aiming for responsible and sustainable farming.
Learn more about Bayer’s position on antibiotics and animals.