It’s Been Said: Antibiotics used by farmers and ranchers put public health at risk
A new report from Consumer Reports scrutinizes the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry and argues that, as a result, public health is at risk. The report states that farmers and ranchers are overusing antibiotics to make animals grow faster and to keep them healthy in what the report refers to as unsanitary living conditions. In a CBS interview, Consumer Reports’ director of Consumer Safety identified the main issue as farmers using antibiotics to keep already healthy animals healthy.
As the report collected data on antibiotic-free meat options available to consumers, it also noted that there is no difference in meat from animals treated with antibiotics and meat from those that have not been treated with antibiotics.
Should all farmers and ranchers who use antibiotics be lumped together as a group who overuses them? Are the conditions on operations resulting in an increased use of antibiotics, which negatively affect public health? Should more antibiotic-free options be available for consumers?
USFRA supports farmers and ranchers who use antibiotics judiciously to prevent and treat illness, always with animal well-being and food safety as top priorities. Farmers and ranchers are committed to maintaining the highest possible food safety from the farm by maintaining the health of the animals in their care because it’s the right thing to do. As farmers work with their veterinarians, sometimes antibiotics are the best tool available to ensure that their animals stay healthy. Farmers and ranchers do what is best for their animals and, as a result, what is best for consumers.
While we agree with Consumer Reports about the importance of sharing the facts about antibiotics with consumers, we feel strongly that some significant details are being left out of the media coverage of this report.
Here are some facts about antibiotics and their use in today’s agriculture community:
Overview of antibiotic use in farm animals and surprising facts; this includes information such as the following:
- No Cases of Animal Antibiotic Use Leading to Antibiotic Resistant Superbugs: There has been no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotics use in animals for consumption. (Hurd SH, Doores S, Hayes D, Mathew Am Maurer J, Silley P, Randall SS and Jones RN (2004). Public Health Consequences of Macrolide Use in Food Animals: A Deterministic Risk Assessment. Journal of Food Protection, 67(5): 980–992.)
- Many Antibiotics Sold for Animal Use Are Not Used to Treat Humans: According to FDA statistics, 35 percent of antibiotics sold for animal use are in classes not used in human medicine. And all antibiotics are carefully examined for any human health implications before approved and incorporated into labeling. This means they have no possibility of contributing to antibiotic resistance bacteria in people. (Animal Health Institute. (2012). Antibiotics in Livestock. Frequently Asked Questions
- We recently held a roundtable discussion with third-party experts to discuss the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
- Cattlemen and women follow The Producers Guide for Judicious Use of Antibiotics, which were adapted from the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Bovine Practitioners and the Academy of Veterinary Consultants’’ Appropriate Antibiotic Use Guidelines. Page 8, http://www.explorebeef.org/CMDocs/ExploreBeef/IMCSRHealthyAnimals.pdf
- Similarly, pork farmers follow guidelines and processes, outlined in the Pork Quality Assurance® Plus program that is designed to help farmers achieve and maintain good production practices related to responsible antibiotic use and animal well-being. In addition, pork farmers demonstrate the ethical principles found in the We Care initiative to underscore production practices that protect public health including managing the use of antibiotics.
How can you contribute to fair coverage and a balanced antibiotics story?
- Tell consumers how and when you choose to use antibiotics on your farm or ranch. Also tell consumers how and when you choose not to use antibiotics. Add your voice to our Facebook page.
- If you see imbalanced coverage of this report in your local media or inaccurate discussions in your social media circles, tell your antibiotic story and link to our overview of antibiotics or panel discussion.