Antibiotics are fundamental to human and animal health. How these vital drugs are used in any setting, however, must be carefully managed to limit the emergence of resistance and to preserve their effectiveness.
Major food animal companies from across the supply chain—including retailers, livestock producers, and trade and professional associations—recently reached consensus on a framework, announced Dec. 18, that defines the core components of a rigorous stewardship program and underscores a shared commitment to ensuring the judicious use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, in partnership with Farm Foundation, a nonprofit industry group, initiated this effort more than two years ago, recognizing the need for and potential transformative power of a shared stewardship framework for animal agriculture. Similar approaches have been successful in the human health care sector. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a long history of brokering consensus around the core elements of successful antibiotic stewardship programs in various health care settings.
These guidelines have enabled the setting of transparent goals and expectations; encouraged coordinated actions at the local, regional and national level; and facilitated improved data collection that is helping to better focus efforts and drive measurable progress toward more appropriate antibiotic use. Since CDC started publishing these core components, stewardship programs in health care facilities such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and outpatient centers have been major catalysts for positive change in human health care, helping to reduce infection rates, lower costs, and improve patient outcomes.
Numerous stakeholder interviews conducted by Pew and Farm Foundation at the outset of this project demonstrated that although various antibiotic stewardship activities existed in animal agriculture, they lacked coordination, and there was no uniform understanding of what it took to implement comprehensive programs.
To address these issues, Pew and Farm Foundation convened a series of stakeholder meetings that brought together a diverse group of food companies, retailers, livestock producers, animal pharmaceutical companies, and trade and professional associations. Together, we established shared goals for antibiotic stewardship and assessed the prospects for a voluntary, industry-wide framework—applicable across all major food-producing species—that could be the basis for robust, transparent, and comprehensive stewardship programs throughout the food animal supply chain.
The result of this deliberative, consensus-driven effort is a concrete, actionable framework that will enable the full range of stakeholders to adopt and implement best practices as part of existing and future antibiotic stewardship programs. This includes using workforce development and training, appropriate veterinary care, effective record-keeping, continuous improvement efforts, and measurement and evaluation to help ensure the judicious use of antibiotics.
Like the core components for antibiotic stewardship in human medicine, the framework sets clear expectations and will enable coordinated advancement toward shared goals. As organizations incorporate and implement the core components into their stewardship efforts, the framework also provides a foundation for a transparent assessment of progress. Pew looks forward to continued collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders to build on this foundation to advance antibiotic stewardship.
Kathy Talkington directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic resistance project. Karin Hoelzer, a veterinarian by training, leads the project’s work on antibiotic use in animal agriculture.