Farm Animals: Antibiotic Withdrawal Period And How It Affects Your Health

When antibiotics are given to animals, part of the antibiotic and its by-products will end up in the flesh and in the product (honey, milk, eggs) of the animal. But after some days, the level gradually decline. Antibiotic withdrawal period is the time that passes between the last dose of an antibiotic given to the animal and the time when the level of antibiotic residues in the animal’s flesh or products fall below the maximum allowable limit (Maximum Residue Limit – MRL). Until the withdrawal period has expired, the animal or its products are not fit for human consumption.



While establishing withdrawal periods for antibiotics, a very large margin of safety is used to ensure that even if the withdrawal period is not strictly adhered to, the consumer will not be at risk. In many countries like US, Canada and countries in the European Union, there are strict laws and strategies in place that make sure that farmers obey withdrawal periods. Samples of animal products are taken from farms, shops, border, slaughter houses etc and tested to make sure that residues are not above the maximum allowable limit and that prohibited or illegal antibiotics are not used. If there is violation, investigation is carried out and if appropriate, offenders are prosecuted.

In less developed countries like Nigeria, laws may exist about antibiotic withdrawal period but steps are not usually taken to enforce them. As a result many farmers don’t observe withdrawal periods. Antibiotic and pesticide residues are among the reasons why such countries are denied access into American and Europe livestock market.

How Antibiotic Withdrawal Period Affects Your Health

Antibiotic residues can lead to allergy, cancer, antibiotic resistance and other health effects. Residual penicillin in animal products can cause allergic reaction in some people. Other antibiotic residues like tetracycline, sulphonamides and aminoglycosides can also cause allergic reactions.

One of the most important concerns is antibiotic resistance. Animal products containing antibiotic residues can cause antibiotic resistance in man. The resistant bacteria can then cause diseases in man and such diseases are difficult and expensive to treat. The bacteria may also transfer the resistance to other human pathogens (disease-causing organism).

Cost of Adhering to Withdrawal Periods

Obeying drug withdrawal periods can be financially costly for the farmer. Now imagine your egg layers or cows get sick and you have no other option than to give them an antibiotic with a 7 days withdrawal period. This means that all the eggs or milk produced throughout these 7 days will be thrown away. This is why many farmers in developing countries find it difficult to obey withdrawal periods.

The cost resulting from obeying withdrawal periods can be minimized by following good management practices. This entails following production techniques that help to maximize efficiency and eliminate or reduce infections. It includes proper housing, putting farm biosecurity measures in place, good nutrition, proper vaccination, employing the service of a qualified vet etc.

Herbs and probiotics can help prevent diseases in animals. Various researches on herbs and plant extracts show that they can be use to prevent and treat diseases in animals.  With herbs and probiotics, there are no withdrawal periods unlike antibiotics.


Despite the cost associated with obeying antibiotic withdrawal period, it is still necessary that farmers adhere to it. If not it can jeopardize the health of a lot of consumers. The best way to avoid the cost is by following best management practices that will prevent or minimize infections. Using herbs and probiotics as alternatives to antibiotics will also help.

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