Antimicrobial resistance - AVMA assistant director testimony on advancements of animal health within the livestock industry

 September 25, 2008

Thank you, Mister Chairman and members of the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry, for providing the American Veterinary Medical Association with the opportunity to speak about the advances in animal health within the livestock industry.

My name is Dr. Christine Hoang, and I work as an Assistant Director in the Scientific Activities Division of the AVMA. In addition to holding a doctorate in veterinary medicine, I also hold a master of public health with concentrations in veterinary public health policy, as well as epidemiology. The AVMA as a whole – with nearly 77, 000 member veterinarians – is highly focused on issues related to animal health, animal agriculture, and public health – and has committed extensive resources to their research and evaluation.

Veterinarians are actively involved in research, continually looking for new and better ways to improve animal and human health. It is through this same process of careful study that veterinarians evaluate and determine the efficacy of products and interventions that safeguard our nation's food supply. With limited tools, our profession has made many advances in animal health and food safety – in areas such as the development and implementation of animal disease control programs, interventions to minimize bacterial contamination, and biotechnology. Our successes include a decline in foodborne illnessi associated with meat and poultry products as well as a decline in the prevalence of foodborne pathogens, including Salmonella, associated with meat and poultryii and the decreased resistance of those organismsiii.

The AVMA supports the use of multidisciplinary and integrative approaches to address issues affecting public health and food safety. For instance, in addition to supporting improved animal husbandry and management practices, we also support hazard controls in processing and the continued availability and judicious use of antimicrobials to safeguard the nation's food supply.

Veterinarians also strongly encourage a veterinarian-client-patient relationship and veterinary consultation when implementing any treatment regimen. Dispensing or prescribing a prescription product, including antimicrobials, requires a Veterinarian Client Patient Relationship. Although there are critical shortages in the veterinary workforce, veterinarians provide oversight and advice on the use of medications, including over the counter antimicrobials, on a significant percentage of animal farms. We believe that further studies should appropriately address the availability of veterinary services and that the use of veterinary services can be improved through the resolution of the critical shortage of the veterinary workforce.

With the large number of animals produced for food in this country, the topic of antimicrobial use in food production often becomes a topic of debate. By preventing and controlling disease through the judicious use of antibiotics and other therapeutic agents, veterinarians assist producers in maintaining and improving animal welfare, the health of the herd, and ensuring a safe food supply.

While the end goal is the same for all medical professionals – good health – veterinarians are severely limited in our tools for disease control and prevention. Regulations for drug approvals are more stringent, therapeutic agents can be more difficult to develop, and there are fewer treatments available. Thus, veterinarians must rely on their knowledge of clinical medicine to determine the best course of treatment.

Given the numbers of food animal species, in addition to the diversity of disease conditions that affect animals, a relative scarcity of labeled indications accompanying FDA approved drugs exists. Though the FDA, the AVMA, and others have made and continue to make significant strides in enhancing drug availability, including legislative initiatives such as the Minor Use and Minor Species Act, the numbers of FDA approved drugs are inadequate to meet veterinary medical needs, placing both animal health and welfare – and, potentially, human health – at significant risk.

The Food Animal Residue Avoidance Database, or FARAD, has been a chronically under-funded program used by veterinarians, livestock producers, and state and federal regulatory and extension specialists to ensure that drug, environmental, and pesticide contaminants are not in meat, milk, and eggs that are consumed by Americans. FARAD serves as an informational resource for withdrawal times. Withdrawal times are periods of time by when animals and animal products such as milk or eggs are not to be used for food, allowing time for the animals to metabolize and eliminate the drugs that had been used for treatment. The funding lapses of FARAD in 2007 and the continued lack of recurring support for FARAD places the entire program in jeopardy. If funding is not appropriated before the end of this month, this vitally important asset to ensure food safety may be forced to close its doors—indefinitely.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is committed to ensuring a safe, healthy, and abundant food supply, and supports the ongoing scientific efforts and funding for monitoring and surveillance of foodborne disease and resistant foodborne pathogens; education; development of new antimicrobials, biologics, and other treatment options; and other research to advance animal health and to better define the challenges presented by animal agriculture.

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.


i CDC. FoodNet. Facts and Figures related to "Preliminary FoodNet Data on the Incidence of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food---10 States, United States, 2007" published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) on April 11, 2008. (Available at http://www.cdc.gov/foodnet/factsandfigures.htm)

iiUnited States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety Inspection Service. Progress Report on Salmonella Testing of Raw Meat and Poultry Products, 1998-2001.

iiiCDC. National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System: Enteric Bacteria. 2004 Human Isolates Final Report. (Available at www.cdc.gov/narms/annual/2004/NARMSAnnualReport2004.pdf)