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Friday, February 12, 2010

Clearing Up Misconceptions About Antibiotic Use in Animal Agriculture

The Farmer

Media reports are associating the use of antibiotics in livestock production with antibiotic resistance in humans. Iowa State University veterinary professor Dr. Scott Hurd, who is a former USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety, says this concern is not based in science. Hurd emphasizes that pork producers adopt withdrawal periods for antibiotics, which protects the meat supply. The main issue is actually resistant organisms so Hurd says it is a much bigger, more difficult topic.
In 2000, Denmark implemented a blanket ban on preventative antibiotics. That ban has been repeatedly highlighted in media reports about antibiotic resistance. Hurd, who spent some time in Denmark as the ban was moving forward, is able to offer some perspective on the Danish ban.

"Immediately after that ban, in swine the number of pigs that had to be treated for illness actually doubled and that trend continued for many years after the ban," Hurd said. "The World Health Organization did a study in 2002 and they said very clearly they could find no evidence that human health has actually improved or that risk has actually been reduced."

The media has unfairly portrayed this as a food safety story. Hurd says an antibiotic ban would actually decrease the health of meat animals entering the food supply.

"Antibiotics and other treatments and management are used in livestock in order to produce healthy animals, which result in healthy food," Hurd said. "As the deputy undersecretary I was in charge of all food and meat inspection in the United States. Our first concern is to make sure that no unhealthy animal enters the food chain, so obviously healthy animals are an important part of that, antibiotics are an important part of making animals healthy and getting those into the food chain."