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Watchdogs: Stop Playing Chicken with Industrial Farm Antibiotics

February 26, 2010

HARTFORD, Conn. - It took a few years, but Americans now know if they have a cold virus, they don't need an antibiotic. It's a lesson to be learned next on the farm, according to the American Medical Association and other health groups. Pressure is mounting in Congress to limit the routine use of antibiotics in food animal production, in part because of concerns over the rising number of antibiotic-resistant infections, both in people and animals.

Health scientist Shelley Hearne, managing director of Pew Health Group, says the medications should be used only to battle infections in humans and animals, and other uses should be limited.

"The whole point here is, you need to reserve them in those times of need, versus as a shortcut to quicken animals' growth and to prevent disease because they're living in unsanitary conditions."

Antibiotics are given to chickens and pigs to help them grow bigger more quickly, and are advertised for that purpose by their manufacturers. Hearne says several countries are looking at limits on factory farm antibiotic use; she believes the United States should be a leader in new technologies and methods for animal health and farm profits.

"This is really about fine-tuning this industrial model. Other countries improved upon it; now, let's take those lessons and do it even better."

Denmark banned the routine use of antibiotics on pig farms about ten years ago, with the view that they were being overused in food animals.


Melinda Tuhus, Public News Service - CT