Meat industry unhappy over limiting the use of antibiotics

By Karen Dillon
Sunday, October 31, 2010

KANSAS CITY, MO. - For decades, factory farms have used antibiotics even in healthy animals to promote faster growth and prevent diseases that could sicken livestock held in confined quarters.

The benefit: cheaper, more plentiful meat for consumers.

But a firestorm has erupted over a federal proposal recommending antibiotics only when animals are actually sick.

Medical and public health experts in recent years say overuse and misuse of antibiotics pose a serious public health threat by creating new strains of bacteria that are difficult to treat - both in animals and humans.

"Over time, we have created some monster bugs," said Russ Kremer, a Bonnots Mill, Mo., farmer who speaks nationally about the threat to the food supply. "It is truly harmful to everyone to feed antibiotics to animals just for growth promotion and economic gain."

But the meat industry argues that the draft guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration are premature. It says there is not enough evidence to show a clear link between the use of antibiotics in livestock and health problems in humans.

"What FDA is doing, trying to restrict the use of antibiotics and require additional veterinary oversight, goes beyond where the science, their own science, has gone," said Kelli Ludlum, congressional relations director for the American Farm Bureau.

This summer the FDA issued draft guidelines, which recommend using antibiotics only in acute medical situations and under the supervision of a veterinarian.

The guidelines, which say there is a clear risk to human health, are only recommendations but are a first step toward possible regulations to limit the use of antibiotics in the United States.

Despite meat industry protests, the medical community says that the FDA recommendations don't go far enough. They are weak and voluntary, and after decades of study, the FDA should just issue regulations, the medical industry says.

"These are guidelines, not regulations, which means no enforcement," said Gail R. Hansen, a veterinarian and senior officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which has campaigned for new limits on farm antibiotics. "We don't see that it is going to move things along very efficiently."

Medical and public health experts say the antibiotic issue has been studied in the United States, Canada, Europe and other countries for 40 years. Those studies led to the European Union issuing rules more than 10 years ago limiting the use of antibiotics in livestock. Even more stringent rules were issued in 2006.

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