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Healthy Dose of Fear Drives Consumer Views in Antibiotic Debate

Healthy Dose of Fear Drives Consumer Views in Antibiotic Debate

This week I have been sicker than a dog with a strep infection and some type of bronchitis-type junk. I’m taking antibiotics. I’m drinking orange juice. Obviously,  I’m thankful for the availability of antibiotics, and (in between coughing fits), I’m following the ongoing debate about antibiotic use in livestock production, which is a hot topic in the news yet again.

National Public Radio’s (NPR) “On Point” program recently addressed the question, “Are antibiotics in our meat breeding superbugs?”  The program featured comments from Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY,  Mike Apley, a veterinarian and researcher at Kansas State University, Lance Price, professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University and Stephen McDonnell, founder and CEO of Applegate, a producer of organic and natural meats.

The NPR show opens with the statement  professing that 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States are sold for animals.  That certainly gets listener attention. You may remember a recent article in which Richard Raymond, MD, former undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says the oft-cited statistic that 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals is highly misleading. He has indicated that  87% of the specific kinds of antibiotics used in animals are rarely or never used in humans. It seems that the statistic is being used as a scare tactic. But let’s not get distracted by facts just yet.



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Slaughter tells NPR listeners that livestock producers use of “bags” of antibiotics. “It’s the equivalent of putting antibiotics on your child’s Cheerios every day,” Slaughter says on the radio show. Again, this sounds a lot like fear-mongering to me.  However, it seems to be an effective strategy when it comes to stirring up a radio audience, because there were more people calling in to comment than the show had time to run on the air.

If you are a pork producer, what action do you think our industry should be taking on this issue? It would be worth your time to listen to this show online. It’s interesting to hear the thought-provoking comments from people with genuine concerns. If you don’t have time to listen, you should at least read the comments listed underneath the summary.

Slaughter recently introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, or PAMTA, for the fourth time since 2007. The bill would ban non-therapeutic uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production. She is working hard to drum up support for her legislative efforts.

On yet another front, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance® (USFRA®) placed a letter to the editor in the New York Times print edition today. The letter was written by Charles Hofacre, DVM, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia. The letter was written  in response to a recently run New York Times opinion piece by David Kessler, former FDA commissioner, titled “Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat.” The Kessler piece details his belief that the livestock industry is impacting the crisis of antibiotic resistance in humans. The opinion piece states that the FDA does not know enough about antibiotic-resistant bacteria coming out of livestock facilities, and antibiotics are being given to healthy livestock, thus breeding super bugs in humans.

In response,  Hofacre’s letter points out that there is no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans because of antibiotic use in animals for consumption. He also notes that antibiotics are used judiciously under veterinary guidance and FDA guidelines, and are primarily used to treat sick animals or prevent illness.

It’s a complicated issue, and all of these opinions floating through radio waves, cyberspace, and printed in the popular press are being heard by people with real, valid concerns. As a producer, how would you respond? What would you like consumers to know about how their food is produced?  Leave your opinion in the Comments section below, or email [email protected]. The outcome of these conversations has the potential to have a definite impact on your farm and your animals.

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