When it comes to antimicrobials, farmers better follow the adage of “use them right or lose them.”

Christine Hoang, assistant director, Scientific Activities Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association, operates on the premise that “it’s better to prevent a disease if you can.” As such, Hoang urged attendees at the Annual Business Conference of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, in Madison, Wis., to follow drug labels to a “T” or be prepared for the consequences. And usage of these tools in agriculture is under increasing scrutiny by the media and regulators.

People care about antibiotic usage in animals because they want safe food and they are told by the media to care, Hoang explains.

“What everyone gets really upset about is the indirect route of transmission, and no one even knows if this indirect route of transmission really occurs,” she says. “It’s all based on theory, not fact. But this theory is what causes so much concern in the media.”

Calling negative messages spread to the public about indirect route of transmission “not correct,” Hoang explained that many people equate producer’s use of antimicrobials to consumers sprinkling antibiotics on their children’s cereal every morning.

“Consumers don’t know the facts,” she adds. “They believe what they have read and what others have said. We all know that animals are not fed antimicrobials every day.”

Hoang urged dairy producers to consider people’s incorrect belief about indirect route of transmission as drugs are administered to animals — no matter how infrequently the drugs are administered.

In addition, you need to be aware of, and concerned about PAMTA (the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act) and the role PAMTA activists are trying to play in the future use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

“They want only treatment use. Yes, they are trying to cut out all antimicrobial use unless an animal is ill,” she says. “They want to ban growth promotant usage and use of antimicrobials for prevention of disease.”

Hoang strongly advises producers to continue to use animal agriculture drugs responsibly. She points out that consumer concerns coupled with response to residues have resulted in “important drugs no longer being available.”

“When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says no extra label drug use, they mean it,” she warns. “If a drug is not followed according to its label, it can be withdrawn from the market. The pulled drug will not even be available for use according to label.”

There are a few easy steps you can take to help prevent this from happening.

First, read the product labels. “It’s that simple, says Hoang. “Read the label and follow it. If you don’t understand a label or want reassurance regarding that you fully understand a label, visit with your veterinarian. If you follow your veterinarian’s instructions, you should be OK.”

Hoang acknowledges that mistakes related to drug usage can occur.

Secondly, “if you make a mistake administering a drug, let someone know,” she says. And always follow withdrawal times. Plus perform bulk tank testing, be open to inspections and testing and keep accurate records.

Hoang encourages producers to be actively involved, maintain a voice and become advocates so accurate messages are delivered to the public.