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Report: We’re Misusing Antibiotics

July 20, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS – A new Minnesota-based study calls on the ethanol industry to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics in the ethanol production process. Research from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy finds strong evidence that overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is a leading cause in the rise of resistant bacteria. Study author Julie Olmstead says it's a real threat.

"We found that ethanol producers are using the same antibiotics used to treat human disease. They're employing them not to treat disease, but to make more ethanol. That's a problem."

For years, ethanol producers have added antibiotics to the fermentation process to control bacterial outbreaks, Olmstead says. In order to keep existing antibiotics effective, she advocates ceasing unnecessary applications wherever they are used – in ethanol production, for livestock, even in hospitals. Her research finds that more than 70 percent of all antibiotics in this country are used as feed additives for healthy beef cattle, pigs and poultry to promote growth and to help manage the stresses on the animals posed by conditions in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Olmstead says strong evidence exists showing a link between the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture and the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in humans.

"The problem is, when you use antibiotics for reasons other than treating disease, you make them less effective for protecting human health or animal health. They don't work as well to treat disease."

She points out that of the 170 ethanol production facilities in the United States, nearly half are have managed to avoid use of antibiotics through easily-available alternatives.

The study is available at

Jim Wishner, Public News Service - MN