Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Just in from Washington

Antibiotics Vital to Animal Health, Food Protection

WASHINGTON-The Use of antibiotics in animals has some scientist worried that it could compromise antibiotics used to combat human illness. That fear has resulted in Capitol Hill Legislation banning the use of antibiotics in the nation’s food supply.

But veterinarians say not using the drugs could threaten the health of livestock and poultry while compromising efforts to protect the safety of the country's food supply. The Nations largest Farm organization is calling for careful study before a ban is enforced.

The American Farm Bureau Federation voiced strong opposition to the legislation that restricts important antibiotics for veterinary and farm use. In a letter to Congress, AFBF President Bob Stallman said the bills (H.R. 1549 and S. 619) would handicap veterinarians, livestock and poultry producers in their efforts to protect the nation’s food supply and maintain the health of their farm animals.

“Farmers and ranchers and the veterinarians use antibiotics carefully, judiciously and according to label instructions, primarily to treat, prevent and control disease in our flocks and herds,” Stallman said. “Antibiotics are critically important to the health and welfare of the animals and ultimately the safety of the food produced.”

Farm, Ranch and food producer groups oppose the ban saying food prices would go up, supply drop off, and it would cost ranchers a fortune to keep their herds healthy. Groups also contend that there’s no evidence of a health threat, past, present or future linked to antibiotic use in animals.

Senator Edward Kennedy introduced the bill in the Senate and Representative Louise Slaughter in the House. The legislation has specific language that would ban the use of antibiotics important to human health from being used on sick cattle, hogs, sheep and poultry.

Stallman said more than 40 years of antibiotic use in farm animals proves that such use does not pose a public health threat. In fact, Stallman said that “recent government data shows the potential that it might occur is declining.” Bacteria survival through food processing and handling is decreasing, food-borne illness is down, development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in animals is stable and resistant food-borne bacteria in humans are declining.

“In order to raise healthy animals, we need tools to keep them healthy – including medicines that have been approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration,” Stallman said. “Restricting access to these important tools will jeopardize animal health and compromise our ability to contribute to public health through food safety.”

Under the new legislation Drug manufacturers would be allowed to sell antibiotics for nonhuman uses if they can show there is no danger to public health from microbes developing drug resistances.

Those backing the legislation think that the overuse of antibiotics in animals leads to new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As a result, people may be at risk of becoming sick by handling, eating meat or coming in contact with animals that have an antibiotic-resistant disease; although there have been no illnesses reported in the United States.

Stallman told members of Congress that by opposing the bills, they would “protect the professional judgment of veterinarians and livestock producers in providing safe and healthful meat products” for consumers.

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