Restricting antibiotics in animals: Start by restricting access

Constant readers, those of you who follow the pressing issue of MRSA in animals will know the work of J. Scott Weese, DVS, associate professor of pathobiology at the University of Guelph in Ontario and supervising author of many crucial papers on MRSA in food and companion animals, including the first finding of MRSA in pigs and pig farmers in North America.

You may not know that Weese and his postdoc Maureen Anderson publish an excellent blog on veterinary and zoonotic diseases called Worms and Germs. This weekend they have an important post that deserves wider attention: Antibiotics: A Dose of Common Sense. In it, they propose that one way to reduce the overuse of drugs in food animals is to make animal antibiotics prescription-only. It’s worth taking the time to read it.

Those of you in the cities may not know this, but out here in the Great Flyover, antibiotics for veterinary use are surprisingly easy to buy (as I discovered when I stumbled into a farm-related store in search of a Carhartt jacket against the Minnesota winter). They’re not even over-the-counter — they’re on the shelf, or stacked on the floor with the implements and feed, or blended into the feed itself. And as Weese points out in this post, they are also available without prescription over the Internet (as human antibiotics are too).

It’s a potentially controversial proposal: I don’t think I have any farming readers, but I would imagine their response would start with an objection to the extra cost of hiring a veterinarian to assess whatever situation might require the drugs. And since most farmers (NB: not the overarching ag-biz companies, but the farmers themselves) exist on razor-thin economic margins, they would have a point. But as we know from the excellent work of Extending the Cure and the Center for a Livable Future, unnecessary antibiotic use comes with a cost as well — one that is borne by all of us when antimicrobial resistance prevents antibiotics from working.


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