Animal Medicines & Food Safety

Research shows that healthy animals are an important factor in providing safer food. Just like people, animals can get sick and may require medicines to treat their conditions. More importantly, animal medicines are a critical link in the food safety chain, as they represent a necessary tool for farmers and veterinarians to prevent diseases, treat sick animals, and control outbreaks among livestock and poultry.

It is essential for veterinarians to continue to have a broad range of animal medicines available as one of the tools in the fight against foodborne illnesses. Why are medicines needed for food-producing animals?

Treat Diseases: Antibiotics are necessary for the treatment of sick animals and to prevent the spread of disease to other livestock.

Control Outbreaks: Veterinarians use medicines to control internal and external parasites and other infectious diseases in animals.

Prevent Diseases: Vaccines and pharmaceuticals are needed to prevent and control infectious diseases among livestock and poultry.

The Future of Food Safety

Pre-harvest vaccines are truly innovative agents capable of vastly improving the safety of food in the United States as it travels from farm to fork. These vaccines can be easily administered by farmers to their livestock to greatly reduce the prevalence of harmful foodborne pathogens like E. coli, campylobacter and salmonella.

While significant progress has been made in reducing these bacteria in processing, reducing the amount of bacteria one step earlier — at the farms — will help in the fight against food-borne illness.

Certain organisms do not cause clinical diseases in food animals but can cause human disease if they are transmitted to humans via meat products. Pre-harvest vaccines, however, are promising and effective tools for livestock producers to combat these organisms, and to help promote and maintain food safety.

Animal Medicines: An Important Link in the Food Safety Chain

  • Animal medicines used to keep animals healthy must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in the case of pharmaceuticals, or the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in the case of vaccines.
  • Veterinarians and producers work together on the farm to carefully administer medicines to keep animals healthy. Guidelines have been developed in consultation with the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help farmers make sound decisions about the use of medicines.
  • The FDA also sets strict guidelines for how medicines can be used, including withdrawal times – periods of time prior to harvest when the medicine cannot be used to ensure that any residues don’t end up in the food – thereby adhering to these strict government regulations.
  • USDA has monitoring systems in place to ensure that animal medicine residues above strict limits are not in meat products. FDA, USDA and CDC work together to track the development of any antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • Federal inspectors also monitor products during manufacturing and packaging to ensure that they are safe and accurately labeled.

What are Experts Saying?

Review the International Food Information Council’s questions and answers on animal antibiotics, antimicrobial resistance and its impact on food safety.

Learn why antibiotics are important, integral tools to our complex food system in Antimicrobial Resistance: Implications for the Food System from the Institute of Food Technologists.

The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) Program Unit is regulated by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). NAHMS conducts national studies on the health and health management of United States domestic livestock and poultry populations. | Learn more

Learn more about the AVMA Initiative to Keep Our Food Safe.

How does the federal government ensure our food is safe? Find out from this AVMA podcast.

Watch this short video about how farmers and veterinarians keep cattle healthy and disease free.

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