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Conference: Farm Antibiotic Overuse Eyed in MT

July 30, 2009

Helena, MT - Scientists meeting in Philadelphia at the Academy of Natural Sciences Center for Environmental Policy have been discussing how large-scale routine use of the medications by industrial farms can lead to the creation of drug-resistant bacteria. Antibiotics have been a staple for many Montana livestock producers for decades to keep animals healthy and growing at optimal rates, but the practice could have long-range implications for human health.

Robert Martin, Pew Environment Group's senior officer, says antibiotics have a role to play when treating a sick animal, however, that's not how the meds are being used.

"Seventy percent of the antibiotics and related drugs that are consumed in the country are used as non-therapeutic uses in livestock production."

Part of the reason animals get sick and grow slowly in large-scale operations, according to Martin, is that they live in crowded conditions with poor ventilation and poor waste management. Denmark successfully phased out routine livestock antibiotic use by focusing on improved living conditions for the animals, he adds.

"Once they provided better handling of waste, vented the barns better, mortality actually went down and productivity went way up - and the pools of resistant bacteria both in animals and people declined."

Martin admits he is not advocating the end of antibiotic use, just focusing use on animals who are actually sick.

Proponents of antibiotic use for livestock production say the practice benefits consumers by expediting animal growth and preserving health. The Food and Drug Administration is looking at limiting livestock antibiotic use, allowing it only for curing or preventing disease.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT