Photo by Noah Fromson

Steve Solomon, co-founder of Global Health Public Consulting, addresses the forum about the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance in animals and humans.

WASHINGTON — With development of new antibiotics slowing to a trickle, food producers and feed suppliers need be better acquainted with how to handle antibiotics with their animals, experts said at a Farm Foundation, NFP forum Wednesday.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem for both humans and animals — and it stems from overuse.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not necessary or are not optimally effective.

A 2014 FDA study revealed that 62 percent of antibiotics important to human health are also approved for food-producing animals. By over-using these antibiotics, both animals and humans bolster their resistance and fall back to “last-resort” drugs that have no replacement, according to the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, a study done in the United Kingdom.

Consequently, the antibiotic pipeline is drying up and it’s causing a global crisis of antibiotic resistance, said Steve Solomon, co-founder of Global Public Health Consulting.

“The problem is we do not have good data about how antibiotics are used,” Solomon said.

Because the new drugs are slow to develop in the pipeline, food producers and feed suppliers must focus on conservation of the effective antibiotic resources, said director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kathy Talkington.

“In order to measure improvement we need to have a better understanding of what is being done at the farm level, what antibiotics are being used for what purposes and for what duration of time,” Talkington said.

In December 2013, the FDA issued Guidance for Industry 213 and revised its Veterinary Feed Directive, which laid out a three-year timeline for the phasing out of medically important (for humans) antimicrobial drugs in animal food production. That means by this December, antibiotics in the livestock industry can only be used to treat and prevent disease, instead of speeding up growth by “beefing” up the feed.

Smithfield Foods Hog Production Chief Science and Technology Officer Terry Coffey said big companies like his own will lose some flexibility in how they get access to feed for animals. He worries smaller-scale farmers will have a harder time adjusting and getting the resources they need to make the shift away from anti-biotics as growth agents.

“One of our concerns at the Farm Foundation is if this is too complicated, will those people just [fall] out of the business?” Coffey said.

The Farm Foundation held 12 regional workshops last year that targeted small livestock producers and feed suppliers to provide details on the new FDA policies.. According to the findings, the average level of awareness of the requirements for food producers was 4.55 out of 10 and 6.67 for feed suppliers.

“The time has come to look to the future and how to translate the action plans into sustainable effective policy,” Solomon said.

The forum preceded a national summit this week in Washington, sponsored by the Farm Foundation, the USDA’s Economic Research Service and other organizations, highlighting issues surrounding the stewardship of antimicrobial use in food-producing animals.