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Antibiotics Ban Bad For Animals, Consumers

PigsOn 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.

Doug WolfDoug Wolf
National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President

7 Responses

  1. Doug,

    I hear your concern for your animals. Have you considered that if you raised your pigs in a healthy environment and gave them adequate nutrition they would no longer have a need to get sick. Your shotgun approach of administering antibiotics to healthy animals is harmful to your pigs. Treating them with antibiotics when there is no need subjects them to harmful side effects. It also does encourage the survival of the fittest microbes. You are creating superbugs with every prophylactic dose.

    Most of the meat in the USA no longer comes from farms. The animals are grown in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s). Because of the high density of animals living in confined spaces antibiotics are needed to compensate for the bad manufacturing processes (BMP’s). 80% of the antibiotics used in the United States are used on animals. Some ends up in the meat we eat. The rest makes it back into the water supply and contaminates the water we drink.

    You quote the CDC and NIH, but fail to mention the draft report they issued in conjunction with the FDA on May 18, 2011. For those interested here is a link to “A Public Health Action Plan to Combat Antimicrobial Resistance,”

    Thank you for alerting me to Representative Slaughter’s bill, “The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act”. It will phase out the non-therapeutic use in livestock of medically important antibiotics – the antibiotics of last resort when humans are infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria. It does not restrict use of antibiotics to treat sick animals.

    I am in favor of Representative Slaughters bill. I will be sending my representatives of congress a letter asking them to support this important bill.

  2. Thanks to Jeff for setting the record straight, and saving me from composing what he said so eloquently. I believe it’s time we pay the true price for our meat, especially since meat consumption is too high in the US as is.

  3. To ban the use of antibiotics in food producing animals ignors all of the scientific research showing the advantages for both humans and livestock, and research showing that antibiotic use in livestock is not connected to any human health issue. To ban antibiotics in livestock is to evoke the precautionary principle (assumption) that relies solely on conjecture.

  4. Good to here that Preston. Science is Science. We can not base on SPECULATION to make very important decisions. Actually that is why companies and government spend amounts and amounts of dollars on funding research otherwise those dollars would be used for other things. So all in all we have to respect research findings and stop making decisions basing on what I can call the “FEAR FOR THE UNKNOWN”.

  5. “Science is science” is surely a statement loaded with truthiness. One can equally argue that continuing to defend feeding antibiotics ignores all of the research, much of it funded by government, that shows associated development of antibiotic resistance. It is interesting that science is not immune to truthiness – defined as ‘truth’ that a person claims to know intuitively from the gut without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination or facts – wishing things to be the way one wants them to be.

  6. I agree with Wolf’s analysis. Until we know what causes pathogens to become immune to antibiotics, it is important to protect animals and birds from disease.
    Withdrawal periods prescribed by FDA are effective in preventing carcass contamination with antibiotics. Also, USDA’s FSIS checks tissues for residual antibiotics and other chemicals.
    Free range turkeys raised in old apple orchards have been known to have DDT in the carcasses. DDT was banned from use more than 60 years ago. Let’s get the research done first, then take action as needed to protect the public.

  7. I think Mr. Wolf asserted a valid point, that antibiotic MDR resistance in Humans is primarily caused by our own ingestion of antibiotics. Unfortunately that point is moot and distraction from the real problem. Like with any population with over use or miss use of antibiotic we see a development of resistance (MRSA in hospitals, MDR TB in prisons). Lately their have been some alarming studies (APPLIED AND ENVIRONMENTAL MICROBIOLOGY Volume: 77 Issue: 13 Pages: 4494-4498 most recent in a food system) demonstrating the transfer of resistance traits happens in bacteria quite promiscuously. In addition, The has already been many observations of MDR S. typhimurium in the food chain. (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs139/en/) We have to address the fact that there a real chance that resistance can render our chemotherapy useless, putting animals and consumers in greater danger than ever imagined. Bottom Line, There needs to be cooperation between the government, industry, and consumers, in regard to the use of antibiotics in the food chain or we are guaranteed to lose the battle against foodborne pathogens, and jeopardized the food supply.

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