ANALYSIS - The role of antimicrobials in extending the life of ageing dairy cows has been brought under the spotlight by an investigative report claiming foul play on US farms.
Insights from news agency Reuters have implicated dairy farmers with misusing antibiotic ceftiofur to ensure slaughter value is realised upon a cow leaving the dairy herd.
An account from a retired dairy farmer and a table of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data were used to illustrate the extent to which the drug was both administered and subsequently showed up as the main residue in carcass inspections.
Described by congresswoman and welfare lobbyist Louise Slaughter as “truly shocking”, the report blamed farmers for putting consumers at risk of “superbugs”.
Classed as critically important for human health, ceftiofur is pressured by a World Health Organisation list prioritising its efficacy.
Product manufacturer, Zoetis, which markets Excenel, the product containing ceftiofur as a product that protects a farmer’s "bottom line" has retaliated, emphasising the safety and efficacy of veterinary use of ceftiofur.
It said: “We believe part two of the Reuters report did not report on all relevant facts.”
Unlike many other antibiotics, there is no withdrawal period on ceftiofur, explained the Reuters report, meaning the drug is frequently used before the animal is killed, the report said.
This cuts down on wasted milk and allows immediate slaughter. But, according to a Texas Tech University veterinary epidemiologist speaking to Reuters, threatens human health through resultant antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
He said resistance is “especially pronounced” soon after the drug has been used.
The report also mentioned a “gap” in government testing, in that US Department of Agriculture testing only screens for excess levels of antibiotics and not for resistant bacterial presence.
Louise Slaughter slammed agriculture, saying the report showed “blatant industry disregard” for withdrawal periods on the product.
She questioned agriculture’s ability to keep to Food and Drug Administration voluntary guidelines, released earlier this year, to curb antibiotic use on farm.
Zoetis highlighted that the report only takes into account one of two slaughterhouse inspections.
It covered inspector generated samples, taken by officials on suspect animals, but ignored scheduled sampling tests.
Zoetis spokesperson Elinore White told TheCattleSite that animals do not enter the slaughter process unless they are fit to do so.
She added: “It is also important to know here that according to latest antibiotic reports from the FDA, Cephalosporin medicine, of first and third generations, accounts for less than 0.3 per cent of all medically important antibiotics sold for use in both food and companion animals."
She stressed the product usage is “targeted and in small amounts” and said the company was proud of its 26 year record selling the product.
“Veterinarians turn to Ceftiofur to treat metritis, mastitis and serious bacterial infections," she added.
“Reuters looked at Inspector Generated Samples, which entails targeting at risk cattle upon visual assessments, removing them from the production line and testing them.”
Responding to Mrs Slaughter’s questioning of agriculture’s ability to implement the new voluntary legislation on antibiotics, Zoetis put faith in veterinarians.
"We believe the vet is the professional,” she concluded.