The Truth About "Superbugs"
Story Date: 11/30/2012

Dr. Christine Hoang, DVM, MPH, CPH, assistant director of Scientific Activities at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and an expert on antimicrobial resistance, shed light on the use of antibiotics in livestock during a recent U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) panel discussion.

One of the most common criticisms about the use of antibiotics on farms is that it might lead to the creation of resistant human pathogens, such as MRSA and C. difficile. Dr. Hoang stated that these fears are unfounded, because studies have shown that these “superbugs” are not related to farming. “They’re human related resistant infections that are in no way related to antibiotic use in livestock production,” she said.


She also explained that the AVMA has been working tirelessly to ensure that antibiotic use on farms is brought under the direct control of veterinarians. Today, many antibiotics can be purchased by farmers over the counter. Dr. Hoang explained that efforts to bring all agricultural antibiotic applications under the control of veterinarians will help ensure that antibiotics are used judiciously.


“The AVMA is working very hard with the Food and Drug Administration to establish veterinary oversight over how antibiotics are being used,” Dr. Hoang said. “The goal of veterinary medicine has always been to achieve a system where these drugs are used judiciously for the benefit of both animal and human health.”


The prevention of antibiotic resistance in humans is one of the reasons why veterinarians support the continued use of preventive applications of antibiotics in the practice of herd medicine on farms. Dr. Hoang explained to the listening audience that waiting until an animal is sick to use antibiotics could, in fact, make it more likely these “superbugs” will develop  because veterinarians will be forced to treat sick animals with more powerful antibiotics that are more commonly used in human medicine and use them at higher doses.


Dr. Hoang explained that there are other benefits of preventive applications of antibiotics on farms.  Preventive antibiotic use reduces the transmission of food borne illnesses into our food supply, and there are substantial animal welfare benefits. “Because you are preventing the disease before it occurs, there is benefit to the animals because they are not getting sick and suffering,” she said.


            Dr. Hoang also explained the benefits of including antibiotics in animal feed, which is something that has drawn criticism in the media.  Including preventive medications in livestock feed is simply safer and more humane, reducing the need for injections or manual oral dosing of animals.


To learn more about this important issue, the AVMA encourages people to view the complete webcast entitled “Antibiotics and Your Food,” which was webcast live on Nov. 15, 2012. The webcast can be viewed on the USFRA website at For more information about the AVMA and the Association’s policies concerning this issue, visit

NC Veterinary Medical Association
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