Veterinarian's op-ed piece says antibiotic ban taking tools away from vets

In a recent editorial that appeared in a publication focused on poultry health, a veterinarian cautioned that the movement against using antibiotics and other drugs in production animals is limiting the ability of vets to do their job.

"The push to eliminate the use of antibiotics takes away vital tools of the veterinary profession," Suzanne Dougherty, DVM, wrote in Poultry Health Today.

Additionally, she said, new policies that forbid the use of antibiotics in food animals are like asking veterinarians to "violate every aspect of our oath." She cited the treatment of coccidiosis, a common and persistent parasitic disease in poultry that can result in animal suffering.

The disease is typically treated with animal-specific drugs called ionophores, which are classified as antibiotics and have been used for the past 5 years to help reduce salmonella in meat. Research cited by Dougherty has shown that broilers with increased intestinal disease--usually coccidiosis--are more likely to have salmonella.

Another example Dougherty brings up is bacitracin, a drug of choice by vets to treat flocks with necrotic enteritis, a serious intestinal disease that is known to cause suffering in animals. Although the FDA has said bacitracin isn't important to human medicine, food vendors who follow guidelines set down by the World Health Organization and not the U.S. regulatory agency, have prohibited its use in animals they buy and market as being free of antibiotics.

"While we support the prevention of disease in every way possible without using antibiotics, there are times when these medications are necessary," Dougherty wrote. "The veterinary profession strongly believes in the responsible and judicious use of antibiotics to reduce antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, but animal welfare and food safety must always be taken into consideration."

Last week, the Subway sandwich chain joined McDonald's ($MCD), Chick-fil-A, Chipolte ($CMG) and Panera ($PNRA) in plans to phase out suppliers who use antibiotics in producing meats. Earlier this summer, Perdue announced it is now raising more than half its birds without antibiotics, either human or animal. Tyson ($TSN) also has vowed to eliminate the use of antibiotics that are important to human healthcare--a move that is being promoted by the White House.

It's worth noting that Poultry Health Today is sponsored by Zoetis ($ZTS), which makes a range of antibiotics used to treat poultry flocks.

- check out the editorial