On more than one occasion I have treated my pigs with antibiotics to prevent them from contracting a disease. It wasn’t something I did wantonly—after all, antibiotics are expensive—but my moral obligation to ensure the well-being of my animals and, ultimately, to provide the public with safe, wholesome pork compelled me.
Now, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., as she has in the past few Congresses, is proposing to take away those important veterinary tools. Legislation she introduced earlier this month would ban the use in livestock and poultry of seven classes of antibiotics. She contends that antibiotic use in food-animal production is causing antibiotic resistance in people.
But there’s nothing backing her claim. In fact, according to top scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, there are no scientific studies linking antibiotic use in livestock production with antibiotic resistance in people. In one survey, the results of which were published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, experts estimated that 96% of human antibiotic resistance occurs because of human uses of antibiotics. A 2006 report from the Institute of Food Technologists concluded: “Eliminating antibiotic drugs from food-animal production may have little positive effect on resistant bacteria that threaten human health.”
The U.S. pork industry believes that more research is needed on the causes of antibiotic resistance before any antibiotics are banned or restricted from use in food-animal production. Indeed, the risk of not using antibiotics may outweigh any risk of using them.
There’s evidence that may be the case. A study by Dr. Scott Hurd, Associate Professor at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and former U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, found that when pigs have been sick during their lives, they have a greater presence of food-safety pathogens on their carcasses.
All antibiotics used in food-animal production have gone through a rigorous U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process, which determined their safety for animals, humans, and the environment, and all are administered under an animal health plan developed by a veterinarian to ensure animal well-being. Additionally, the FDA set a withdraw period for each antibiotic—the amount of time between a last dose and when an animal can be processed.
Taking away important animal health products, as Slaughter’s bill proposes, would be bad for animals, bad for farmers, and bad for consumers.