Pork Coalition Sounds Off On CBS Antibiotic Report

A pork industry coalition has responded to CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric’s a two-part series on antibiotics in livestock

A pork industry coalition has responded to CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric’s a two-part series on antibiotics in livestock.

The group sent a letter Friday to CBS News President Sean McManus which stated: “We were extremely disappointed with CBS’s recent Evening News story on antibiotic use in the livestock industry. The story lacked any attempt at balance and largely accepted the arguments of opponents of conventional agriculture that drugs are overused in livestock and are a major cause of antibiotic resistance.

“In fact, antibiotics are given to livestock strategically, when animals are sick, susceptible or exposed to illness. Modern livestock production facilities provide animals with an environment designed to keep them safe, healthy and comfortable. Also, there’s no proof that antibiotic use on farms significantly increases resistant bacteria in humans. Since antibiotics have been used in livestock for half a century, if there was going to be an epidemic of resistance related to antibiotic use in agriculture, it would have occurred by now. The fact that it has not means that antibiotic use in animals is not a major risk to human health.”

The letter mentions that CBS ignored the impact of over prescription in human medicine and instead focused on Denmark’s ban on antibiotic growth promoters.

CBS falsely reported that “no one is really monitoring” antibiotic resistance, ignoring the existence of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, which shows that resistance in animal products has been either steady or declining in recent years.

“CBS linking of antibiotic use in pigs to the human threat of MRSA-methicillin-resistant staph aureus was particularly irresponsible and could alarm viewers needlessly,” the letter to CBS continued. “CBS failed to distinguish between the different categories of MRSA, some of which can cause very serious illness and death and are most often found in health care facilities. There is no data suggesting that antibiotic use in pigs is responsible for the more virulent form of MRSA. The form discovered on pig farms is much less serious than the hospital-acquired and even the community-acquired forms of MRSA. It does not cause illness in pigs and antibiotics are not used to treat it.

“Further, this strain of MRSA has not been found in human disease surveillance by either the Centers for Disease Control or the University of Iowa hospitals (where it has been studied).”

CBS’ use of the derogatory terms “factory farming” and “industrial farming” are anti-agriculture activist terms “and for CBS to embrace them gives them credibility they do not deserve,” the letter said.

The letter concluded: “Conventional farmers would welcome a constructive discussion of all their production practices, including the use of antibiotics in livestock. But that requires a commitment to facts that the CBS story clearly lacked. It was sad to see that CBS could be so reckless and one-sided, and disappointing to find that it would take such a simplistic look at such a complex issue. As anti-meat and anti-agriculture advocates continue to push for legislation limiting the use of antibiotics in food animals, CBS may have the opportunity to revisit this subject. We hope future coverage will be more balanced.”

The letter was signed by 15 agricultural organizations including the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council.