Drugs and Livestock

A Deadly Mix

An Editorial from The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times

A top animal health official at the United States Department of Agriculture recently confirmed to Congress what we have been arguing for years: Wanton administration of antibiotics in livestock is leading to human health problems. Here is a quote from John Clifford, DVM, deputy administrator for veterinary services with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service:

“USDA believes that it is likely that the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of antibacterial resistance among humans and in the animals themselves and it is important that these medically important antibodies be used judiciously.

“…We are committed to identifying opportunities to reduce usage and maintain the effectiveness of these drugs — whether though the development of new treatment options for animals, such as vaccines, or through outreach and education …”

That’s a shot heard ’round the livestock industry. We are accustomed to USDA parroting the concerns of the production industry and battling with the Food and Drug Administration over regulatory turf.

Now, even the USDA is starting to fall into line with the Food and Drug Administration, which has called for a ban on feeding antibiotics to livestock to assist in weight gain. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention also backs the guidelines.

Hogs and poultry are the heaviest users of drugs for rate of gain. Of course, Buena Vista County has a huge stake in this debate as it is in the center of one of the world’s most intensive intgrated livestock production centers.

Dutch research made a link between livestock usage and superbugs resistant to antibiotics several years ago. Lesser-known research within the last decade at hog lagoons demonstrated that hyper-virulent forms of cryptosporidium, a deadly microbe, were spreading from the lagoons.

No one is suggesting that antibiotics not be used on hogs or poultry, which are kept in confinement and hence more vulnerable to airborne disease. What FDA proposes is to ban antibiotic feeding only when it is used primarily to enhance weight gain.

The American Veterinary Medical Association, whose members sell the antibiotics, was predictably glum about the testimony in July before a House subcommittee hearing chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. A ban on antibiotics for rate of gain could have unintended consequences for animal and human health, suggested Christine Hoang, DVM, of the AVMA. She said any regulations should be based on “sound science,” often the rallying cry of the agri-industrial lobby.

It’s hard for us to imagine how retracting drugs from rate-of-gain use in livestock would harm humans. To the contrary, lesser use should lead microbes not to develop extreme tolerance to antibiotics heretofore useful to humans. AVMA might be motivated more by money than by science, as is often the case in issues before Congress.

However, the suggested FDA guidelines allow for antibiotic use for genuine medical issues under the direction of a veterinarian. Big livestock integrators might not like that extra expense. The ban will not affect small livestock producers that are not as inclined to use drugs as part of regular feeding programs.

If there are real threats to human health with a ban, then the AVMA and the livestock industry (which appear to be one and the same) need to tell us what those impacts might be. We suspect the threat is more to the balance sheet than the immune system.

The Smithfields of the industry will cope. They always have. The question is if the citizens of Buena Vista County can cope with increasing resistance to antibiotics. We have already seen super-staph infections crop up in Northwest Iowa that are resistant to old-line antibiotics. It is interesting that these types of super-bugs show up after hogs and poultry are moved indoors and drugged daily. Why did they not develop before?

The ban on antibiotics to help livestock gain weight — a production factor and not a medical one — deserves to be ratified. Our health may depend on it.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2010


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