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Johns Hopkins Panel: Antibiotic Use in Livestock a Public Safety Risk

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

A panel convened by Johns Hopkins University to assess antibiotic use in livestock has warned that the United States faces unnecessary public health risks because of the too-frequent use of antibiotics in chickens, cows and pigs, as well as the Food and Drug Administration's alleged lack of action on the issue.

"Meaningful change is unlikely in the future," the 14-member panel concluded in a report that was released Tuesday and quickly drew protests from livestock industry groups.

Antibiotics are routinely sprinkled into U.S. cattle, hog and poultry feed to promote growth, and are also used to prevent and treat illness. Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of antibiotic sales, according to the limited records available.

The report's release came on the fifth anniversary of a landmark 2008 Pew Charitable Trust report that called for livestock producers to stop using antibiotics unless their animals are sick, and to no longer use tiny cages for egg-laying hens. That report claimed that antibiotic overuse would lead to antibiotic resistance within the U.S. population, which could increase the prevalence of illness.

Congressional hearings followed the release of that report, prompting an intense defensive response from the livestock industry.

The new Johns Hopkins report said that "additional scientific evidence has strengthened the case that these (non-therapeutic) uses pose unnecessary and unreasonable public health risks" of allowing bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics.

"We have even better science to support the recommendations we have made," Mary Wilson, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, said according to Reuters. "We are, in fact, running out of antibiotics. We are seeing infections that are untreatable."

More than 2 million Americans are sickened by antibiotic-resistant infections each year and 23,000 of them die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.   
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