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Debate Rages on Over Agricultural Antibiotics Use

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's CAFO's vs. Free Range page, Health Issues page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

In countries such as Denmark, antibiotics are used only sparingly on farms, to treat animals that are sick - a novel concept in the US, where antibiotics are used to prevent disease in healthy animals (the farmers simply 'assume' the animals are going to get sick otherwise, given their deplorable living conditions).

In the US, animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are also continuously given low-dose antibiotics in their feed because it makes the animals get bigger, faster.

In other parts of the world, such as the European Union, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animal feed has been banned for years, yet in the US this is still a topic of debate, with industry supporters trying to downplay the inevitable fact that this irresponsible use of antibiotics is most likely posing a serious risk to human health and the environment.

Debate Rages on Over Agricultural Antibiotics Use

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), David Wallinga, MD, Senior Advisor in Science, Food and Health with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy argues that the routine addition of antibiotics to animal feed is not a necessary component for animal feed and is contributing to a coming 'catastrophe' of antibiotic resistance.

"Enforceable measures to reduce this overuse must be core to any effort to avert the coming catastrophe. Because meat production is global in nature, these measures must be implemented nationally and supranationally," Wallinga wrote.

He explained that, "based on a growing body of evidence, almost every European and North American public health authority agrees that routine antibiotic use in animal food production likely worsens the epidemic of resistance  Less certain is the political will to act upon that information."
Wallinga continued:

"You cannot dispute the warning of England's chief medical officer, Sally Davies, that antibiotic resistance is one of modern health's greatest threats. Also beyond dispute is her analysis of its causes-the lack of new drugs combined with massive overuse of existing antibiotics."

In contrast, David Burch -- who develops antibiotics for use in animal feed -- wrote in BMJ that drugs used in agriculture are not those causing problems with resistance in humans, a stance that ignores the big picture. As veterinarian Gail Hansen told NPR:

"If you just look at - does this antibiotic, given to this animal, make this person sick, so we can't treat them with that same antibiotic - that's such a very narrow piece of this whole interconnected puzzle."      


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