Major firms agree to 'framework' for antibiotic stewardship in animals

A group of major stakeholders in food-animal production have signed on to a common set of principles to guide judicious use of antibiotics.

The framework for antibiotic stewardship in food animals, released today, acknowledges that antibiotic use in all settings, from human healthcare to livestock production, must be carefully and responsibly managed to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics in both people and animals. It aims to get food-animal producers and purchasers on the same page by defining what effective stewardship looks like in animal production and laying out the core components for meaningful programs.

The framework is the product of 2 years of negotiations among stakeholders along all parts of the food-animal supply chain, moderated by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Farm Foundation. McDonald's, Walmart, the National Pork Producers Council, Hormel Foods, the National Milk Producers Federation, and Tyson Foods are among the companies agreeing to the framework.

Kathy Talkington, project director for the Pew Charitable Trusts' antibiotic resistance project, compares the framework to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Core Elements for Hospital Antibiotic Stewardship Programs, which provides hospitals with a roadmap for how to build a meaningful stewardship program, regardless of the specific stewardship strategies they use. Talkington said the conversations with companies that raise livestock and those that buy meat indicated that a similar roadmap was needed for food-animal production. 

"We wanted to have a consistent way that we could apply antibiotic stewardship," she told CIDRAP News.

Focus on principles, not setting limits

The framework is built around a foundation of five core components: a commitment to understanding and building a culture around antibiotic stewardship, following veterinary guidance and seeking engagement with veterinarians, knowing the full range of disease treatment strategies, knowing optimal treatment approaches, and understanding the importance of record-keeping. Each component has an education, implementation, and evaluation phase.

The document also calls for stewardship programs to provide transparency and build trust, ensure that stewardship activities are consistent in their approach and have a scientific basis, and drive continuous improvement and long-term sustainability.

While the framework aims to minimize the need for antibiotics—specifically the types of antibiotics that are important for human medicine—through good husbandry practices and disease prevention strategies, it does not require companies to limit specific uses of antibiotics or set goals for reduced use.

Karin Hoelzer, PhD, DVM, a senior health officer with Pew's antibiotic resistance project, said the core components and principles were the product of months of "deep conversation" with veterinarians and representatives of companies that raise food animals. Rather than get into specific strategies or set targets for reducing antibiotic use, the purpose was to establish principles that could apply across different species and different parts of the supply chain.

"We wanted to keep it at a principle level, and the principles are based on trying to reduce the need to use antibiotics in the first place, and then using antibiotics as judiciously as possible, when they need to be used," Hoelzer said.

Talkington said the companies that have signed on can implement the framework in whatever way they choose. The real benefit, she explained, is that it provides the participating companies with a common concept of stewardship. In addition, it provides a way to evaluate the participating companies' commitment to stewardship, and their actions going forward. "It creates, for the first time, a way to assess what's happening out there," she said.

The hope is that other companies will sign on the framework. "We started with a small group but would love for more," Talkington said.

A good start

Matt Ferreira, DVM, MPH, veterinarian with the section of infectious diseases at the University of Chicago department of medicine and an advocate for reduced use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals, says the framework is a good start and highlights important aspects of what stewardship should look like on farms.

"It's fantastic that these various stakeholder groups were able to come together to begin to address this serious issue," Ferreira told CIDRAP News. "Any progress on the issue will be a result of collaborative efforts, like this one, that involve all stakeholders."

But Ferreira also noted that commitment to the framework needs to be followed by action.

"It will be crucial for the stakeholders to follow through with the spirit of the framework to achieve any meaningful reduction in unnecessary antibiotic use in food-animal production, especially with no evaluation mechanisms in place," he said. "As we have seen from the examples of other countries in Europe, the most effective way to reduce unnecessary antibiotic in food-animal production is through targeted goal setting, cooperation across sectors, and consistent evaluation."

Food-producing animals consume roughly 70% of medically important antibiotics sold in the United States, and up to 80% in other parts of the world. Concern that overuse of these drugs in food-animal production is contributing to antibiotic resistance has led the World Health Organization and other health groups to call for limiting the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock and poultry, particularly for growth promotion and disease prevention.

See also:

Dec 18 Pew Charitable Trusts press release

Dec 18 Framework for antibiotic stewardship in food animal production

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