Thursday, July 23, 2009

Obama Administration seeks limits on antibiotics in livestock

The New York Times reported on July 13 that the Obama Administration would seek to ban routine use of antibiotics in farm animals. Those practices are believed to lead to development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in humans. The Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated as much as 70% of antibiotic usage in the U.S. is given to healthy cattle, chickens and hogs to encourage growth and to prevent disease.

The AMA (American Medical Association) is backing the measure proposed by House Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat, of New York and chairwoman of the Rules Committee. It would ban seven classes of antibiotics important to human health from being used in animals, and would restrict other antibiotics to therapeutic and some preventive uses.

Naturally, organizations like the National Pork Producers Council and other lobbying groups oppose the measure. The farm lobby’s opposition makes its passage unlikely, but advocates are hoping to include the measure in the legislation to revamp the health care system.

In written testimony to the House Rules Committee, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, said feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle — done to encourage rapid growth — should cease. And Dr. Sharfstein said farmers should no longer be able to use antibiotics in animals without the supervision of a veterinarian.

"The use of antibiotics for “purposes other than for the advancement of animal or human health should not be considered judicious use,” Dr. Sharfstein said in his written testimony. “Eliminating these uses will not compromise the safety of food.”

Personally, I agree that confined feeding operations overuse antibiotics, although the incidence of disease in those confinement areas remains high, from what I have read over the years.

I know many small farmers who can, and do, give antibiotics to a sick or injured animal. Often they are 30 miles or more from a local veterinarian, and generally give any drugs in cooperation from/with the vet. I am not in favor of small farmers losing that privilege by this proposed ban, which will affect their ability to make a living.

As mentioned above, this measure may become part of any health care reform, so we need to be aware of the verbiage in it, and support our small farmers with appropriate consideration.

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