The ban, announced Jan. 6, prohibits the “extra-label,” or unapproved, use of cephalosporin in food-producing animals. This new restriction is intended to prevent the development of super-bacteria that could eventually harm humans, said dairy science professor Leanne Berning.
“The worry is always that if we use it in some mechanism other than what is prescribed on the label you could have development of some antibiotic-resistant strains,” Berning said.
To prevent this, cephalosporin drugs may no longer be used in “unapproved dose levels, frequencies, durations or routes of administration,” according to the website of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). This applies specifically to cattle, swine, turkeys and chickens, exempting smaller food-producing animals such as ducks and rabbits.
The use of cephalosporin antibiotics for treating humans has also been banned from agricultural use.
The purpose is to prevent cephalosporin-resistant strains of bacteria from developing in food-producing animals and transferring to humans. Because cephalosporin is used to treat people for pneumonia and other illnesses, a cephalosporin-resistant strain of bacteria would make human treatment of sickness more difficult, according to the CVM.
The ban won’t have much effect on dairy science classes, though, because of its focus on extralabel uses, Berning said.
The restrictions also allow exception for the antibiotic cephapirin, which is the only cephalosporin antibiotic commonly used in the treatment of dairy cattle at Cal Poly, Berning said.
The ban will have even less of an impact on poultry science, according to Bob Spiller, poultry specialist for the animal science department.
Although cephalosporin treatment for poultry is listed in the ban, the poultry industry already limits its own antibiotic use.
Antibiotics are rarely used to treat poultry because it would require treating an entire population, which can be expensive, Spiller said. Often, it is more cost-effective to let an illness run its course and lose a bird or two than to treat an entire population, Spiller said.
“If you’re going to administer antibiotics to poultry for treatment purposes, you’re going to treat the entire building,” Spiller said. “That’s going to be costly.”
The poultry industry also refuses to use antibiotics in most cases because of the public’s perception of the drugs.
Spiller’s own poultry science students raise Foster Farms birds, and the company has refused to allow its birds to be treated with antibiotics for illnesses in the past, Spiller said.
The company preferred to lose a few birds to illness than to sell antibiotic-treated meat to the public, Spiller said.
“Foster will not use antibiotics to treat birds simply because of the perception,” Spiller said.
This does not mean that poultry elsewhere in the U.S. is antibiotic-free, Spiller said, but most of the industry in California chooses not to use drugs to treat disease.
The ban will have a similar lack of effect on the sheep at Cal Poly, said Rob Rutherford, the animal science department’s sheep specialist.
Lambs in general rarely need antibiotic treatment because of the way they are raised, Rutherford said.
Cal Poly’s sheep population hasn’t needed to be vaccinated or dewormed in five years and are only rarely treated for illnesses, he said. Cal Poly’s sheep don’t spend a long time in barns, corrals or feeding sheds, which helps them avoid picking up any illnesses.
“We really don’t have any problems with infections,” Rutherford said.
The sheep unit does have one bottle of oxytetracycline on hand to treat infections, but rarely needs it.
“I doubt if we’ve used 20cc of that in the last four years,” Rutherford said.
Nonetheless, Rutherford said he understands the FDA’s reasoning behind restricting cephalosporin antibiotic use. The development of new strains of bacteria is always a concern for those in agriculture.
“I do believe that judicious use of products like (cephalosporin) is pretty important in livestock,” Rutherford said.