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Congress Considers the Beef about Animal Antibiotics

July 15, 2010

WASHINGTON - More antibiotics are used in farm animals than in people in the United States, according to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. A growing number of experts are questioning the possible side effects, including new forms of bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant.

At a hearing in Congress on Wednesday, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and some of the country's top veterinarians weighed in on the issue. Some Ohio farmers feed antibiotics to their cows, pigs and chickens to keep them healthy and prompt faster growth, but Lauren Ketcham at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association says the practice also has environmental effects.

"Animal waste that is produced on factory farms contains ammonia, nitrates, phosphorous and, in many cases, antibiotics. When these waste products are concentrated in such high volumes and not properly disposed of, these things find their way into our groundwater and our soil."

The FDA is suggesting what it calls "judicious use" of antibiotics in food animals, although some people don't believe the agency's stance is tough enough.

A bill in Congress to restrict antibiotic use in animals except for treating diseases has 130 co-sponsors, including four Ohio representatives: Reps. Fudge, Kaptur, Kilroy and Sutton.

Ketcham says no matter what Congress decides, Ohio consumers who are concerned always have a choice to buy organic.

"Farmers and producers who sell their products with the 'organic' label may not use drugs, including hormones to promote growth, and cannot sell animals or animal products treated with antibiotics as organic. And the organic standards are rigorously enforced, so consumers can be assured that they're getting what they're paying for."

The bill, "Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act," is HR 1549 amd S 619.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OH