Auburn Speaks
Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development

Healthy Animals

Written By Soren Rodning

Healthy Food = Healthy People

As an associate professor and Extension veterinarian in the Auburn University Department of Animal Sciences and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, I provide statewide food animal agricultural support, conduct research, and instruct undergraduate, graduate, and veterinary students. Current Extension efforts primarily involve promoting herd health management for beef cattle, with a minor emphasis on dairy cattle, meat goats, sheep, and horses. Investigating several cattle diseases is a primary research focus, including evaluating the efficacy of various preventive and control procedures for common cattle diseases such as bovine viral diarrhea, trichomoniasis, anaplasmosis, and lameness.

State Vet_AThe Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for Alabama A&M and Auburn University. Extension delivers university-based knowledge to people where they live and work via peer-reviewed publications, newsletters, blogs, websites, field days, demonstrations, face-to-face meetings, radio broadcasts, videoconferences, and much more.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System is an organization of educators taking leading research from our land-grant universities and facilitating practical application to improve the lives of people all across our state, our country, and ultimately around the world.

We enjoy an abundant supply of safe and nutritious food in the United States because of the hard work of so many people, including farmers, ranchers, processors, shippers, and grocers, among others. Today’s American farmer feeds about 155 people worldwide (about 23 percent of raw U.S. farm products are even exported each year). In 1960, one American farmer fed about 26 people. Put another way, today’s American farmers produce about six times more food compared with 1960, but they do this with 2 percent fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.) because of improvements in plant and animal genetics, soil and animal nutrition, better equipment, and many more modern technologies that are often developed at our land-grant institutions.

With respect to agriculture, Extension serves as a source of unbiased education regarding these new farming and ranching techniques and technologies to further enhance our food production, ensuring a safe and abundant food supply. The Beef Quality Assurance Program is just one way in which Extension and the Auburn University Department of Animal Sciences facilitate raising beef cattle through better herd management and by promoting the judicious and responsible use of growth-promoting implants and antibiotics.State Vet_B

Beef Quality Assurance

Alabama Extension was a pioneer in the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program, a voluntary quality-control program through which beef producers learn about management practices designed to ensure beef product safety and quality. BQA is a nationally coordinated, state implemented program that provides information to U.S. beef producers and consumers about how proper animal care can be coupled with scientific knowledge to raise cattle under optimal management and environmental conditions. BQA guidelines are designed to improve animal health and wellbeing, ranch and farm management, and to ensure that all beef consumers can take pride in what they purchase and can trust and have confidence in the entire beef industry. The Alabama BQA program is a cooperative effort between Extension, beef producers, veterinarians, the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association, and the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association.

A major responsibility of the beef industry is to ensure that beef is safe and wholesome for consumers. BQA began as an effort to ensure that violative chemical residues were not present in beef. However, BQA is much more than a safety assurance program. BQA programs have evolved to include best management practices that facilitate record keeping and protect herd health. When better quality cattle leave the farm and reach the market place, the farmer/rancher, retailer, and consumer all benefit.State Vet_C

Benefits and Safety of Pharmaceuticals in Beef Cattle

Extension and the BQA program help beef cattle farmers and ranchers utilize pasture management, nutrition, genetic selection, preventative medicine, and environmental management as well as a variety of pharmaceutical technologies such as parasite control, antimicrobials, growth promoting implants, and others to produce the safest, most affordable, wholesome beef supply in the world, while ensuring the highest standards of animal care. As a group, pharmaceutical technologies improve feed use efficiency, reduce the amount of land needed to produce more food for a growing population, and reduce the amount of animal waste products generated per pound of beef produced.

Removing modern beef production technologies from the United States would result in
• fewer calves
• less beef production
• increase in beef imports
• and increase in beef prices.

Some important facts to consider when critically evaluating the use of modern beef production pharmaceutical technologies include the following:

• Removing the technological advances of the past 50 years would require the number of beef cattle to nearly double to produce the same amount of beef, requiring additional land area approximately equal to the combined acreage of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas to provide the additional pasture and feed grains.

• Beef production in the U.S. has increased more than 80 percent per animal over the last 50 years, making the U.S. beef cattle industry the most efficient source of beef in the world.

• While decreasing resource inputs, U.S. cattle producers have doubled the total pounds of beef produced in the last 50 years with a smaller national herd size (fewer animals, more beef).

• Due to increased beef production efficiency, inflation-corrected beef retail prices have decreased more than 50 percent in the past 50 years.

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Growth-Promoting Implants

Also referred to as hormonal implants or sometimes just implants, growth-promoting implants are used to improve growth efficiency while decreasing the amount of carcass fat. Stated another way, growth-promoting implants increase the amount of lean beef produced per animal while improving feed use efficiency. As a result, implanted cattle produce more lean beef while consuming less feed and producing less waste.

Safety precautions associated with growth promoting implants include these:

1. All growth-promoting implants are time-release devices administered under the skin of an animal’s ear containing hormone doses of a combination of estrogen, testosterone, trenbolone acetate, and/or a progestin approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The hormone(s) are released slowly into the animal’s bloodstream to ensure a relatively low and constant hormone concentration. A final precautionary measure is the fact that the ear never enters the human food chain.

2. There is no incentive to administer more than the recommended dosage because that does not improve animal growth.

3. The dose of hormones is low.

Some other safety facts to consider regarding the use of growth-promoting implants in beef cattle can be found in Table 1, which compares the amount of estrogen produced daily by humans to the amount of estrogen potentially consumed in an 8-ounce serving of beef. The amount of estrogen present in beef is infinitesimal compared to the amount of estrogen already produced by people on a daily basis, and there is very little difference between estrogen levels in beef from implanted and non-implanted cattle.

Pharmaceutical technologies, including growthpromoting implants, allow the safe and responsible production of more beef from less feed, on less land, creating less waste, allowing cattle producers to more efficiently feed a growing population.

Use of Antibiotics

BQA also encourages the judicious use of antibiotics. In the past several years, the use of antibiotics in livestock has received a lot of national attention. Antibiotics, or antimicrobials, are medications used to treat bacterial infections. A top priority of cattle producers is to maintain the health and wellbeing of their animals.

Treating sick animals appropriately with antibiotics promotes animal and human health and wellbeing because healthy animals = healthy food = healthy people.

Are Antibiotics Safe to Use?

Yes, antibiotics go through a stringent FDA approval process for safety and efficacy, and by law, no meat sold in the United States is allowed to contain antibiotic residues that violate FDA standards.

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FDA approval process

Antibiotics used in beef cattle undergo a thorough evaluation process before the FDA grants final approval for use in animals. The Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) within the FDA ensures that animal drugs are safe, efficacious, and manufactured properly. Human safety is also an important aspect of the animal antibiotic approval process. The FDA establishes withdrawal times for the minimum number of days required between the last antibiotic treatment and the day the animal can enter the human food supply. Withdrawal times ensure that antibiotic residues are no longer present when the animal enters the food supply. Everyone who administers antibiotics to animals is required by law to adhere to all withdrawal periods.

Monitoring antibiotic residues

In addition to established withdrawal times, surveillance for antibiotic residues in beef helps prevent contaminated products from entering the human food supply. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service routinely tests beef products entering the food supply to ensure they do not contain antibiotic levels that violate FDA standards. The testing protocol has been in place since 1967 and is continuously updated based on current information to provide the most thorough protection possible.

Key Points

The BQA program encourages the judicious use of antibiotics in beef cattle. It also helps educate farmers, ranchers, and others about the best practices for a healthy, abundant supply of beef. Main points include the following:

1. Prevent problems. Good animal husbandry (nutrition, hygiene, low-stress handling, vaccinations, deworming, etc.) can prevent disease. Antibiotics should never be used in place of good husbandry.

2. Adhere to all antibiotic label directions unless you are following a written prescription from your herd veterinarian. This includes treating for the recommended time period and adhering to withdrawal periods.

3. Follow all Beef Quality Assurance guidelines with respect to antibiotic storage, administration, and record keeping.

4. Avoid using antibiotics important to human medicine.

5. Use a narrow spectrum of antibiotics. Combination antibiotic therapy is discouraged. In other words, use a medication that is labeled to treat the specific condition present. Do not use more than one antibiotic at a time.

6. Treat as few animals as possible, but always strive to maintain healthy animals.

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