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Dose to Dinner Plate: Congress Examines Antibiotic Use in Livestock

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July 15, 2010

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Antibiotic-resistant infections are on the rise in the U.S., and Congress is taking a look at a possible link between this trend and the routine use of low-dose antibiotics in livestock and poultry feed.

Veterinarian Dr. Gail Hansen, a senior officer with the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, was one of those who testified on this potential before a U.S. House committee Wednesday. She has spent time in Denmark researching the costs and implications of that country's ban on non-medical use of antibiotics in food animals and says the U.S. could set similar policies.

"I'm confident that U.S. farmers and ranchers can work with veterinarians, researchers and others, in this country, to help protect public health from the overuse of antibiotics in food animal production."

Legislation is pending that would limit the use of several classes of antibiotics, except to treat infections.

Opponents say limiting antibiotics will increase consumer food prices and make food less safe. However, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a draft guidance earlier this month suggesting the overuse of antibiotics to make animals grow bigger, faster, and keep them healthy in crowded conditions "poses a serious public health threat."

Dr. Lance Price with the Translational Genomics Research Institute has studied antibiotic resistance. He says it is clear that the routine use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry encourages the development of resistant bugs.

"From a public health standpoint, this is an extremely dangerous practice. It's contrary to all principles of prudent use, and it's hastening the day when our antibiotics fail."

Dr. Scott Hurd at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine opposes legislation restricting antibiotic use. He claims there is no clear science connecting the medications used in animals to antibiotic-resistant infections in people. And he criticizes those who have tried to link MRSA (mersa) infections to livestock antibiotic use.

"Most of those cases are a strain type that's passed among the hospital, or passed among the community; there's a totally different strain than what's been found in pigs."

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held the hearing. The bill mentioned is the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), H.R. 1549, S. 619.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - NC