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Science refutes hype on antibiotic resistance, consultants say

Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Experts in animal science and food safety refute claims by those opposed to animal agriculture who say antibiotic use in food animals is leading to antibiotic resistance in humans. Members of Animal Agriculture Alliance say the percentage of antibiotics used in both animals and humans is small and risk of resistance is minimal.

Several experts in animal agriculture are refuting what they say is misinformation on antibiotic resistance due to antibiotic use in food animals.

Leading that misinformation is the often-repeated statistic that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in animals. That number is inflammatory and does not represent the true issue, said Dr. Richard Raymond, former undersecretary for USDA Food Safety Inspection Service and a food safety consultant.

Raymond and other animal-science experts spoke in a teleconference held by Animal Agriculture Alliance refuting what they say are misleading claims, including antibiotic resistance, by the Center for a Livable Future in its recent re-release of a 2008 report by the Pew Commission.

Those groups and others have a hidden agenda of wanting to put an end to food-animal production and the consumption of meat, Raymond said.

Of all the antibiotics used in animal agriculture, 40 percent have never been approved for use in human medicine. Another 42 percent have not been prescribed by any reputable human care professional in 30 years because they are an extremely poor choice for treating human illness, he said.

That leaves just an 18 percent crossover between antibiotics used in both animals and humans, and that’s where the discussion should be. But animal agriculture opponents refuse to narrow the discussion, he said.

Of that 18 percent crossover, only 0.3 percent of the two categories of antibiotics critical to human health are prescribed for use in animals, he said.

“I don’t say it’s not a problem. I say let’s narrow it down to the 18 percent crossover, and let’s have a discussion, not politics and not hidden agendas,” he said.

For bacteria on meat and poultry, the drugs of choice for treating human illness continue to be effective and resistance to them is not being developed, he said.

“The FDA has done a very good job in protecting our health and limiting (animal antibiotic) abuse,” he said.

Efforts to ban antibiotic use in animal agriculture would threaten human health, animal health and world security, he said.

In Switzerland two weeks ago, Raymond paid $105 for a hamburger, and that’s what would happen to the price of animal protein if ag practices are changed to what Pew and others would like, he said.

“We are providing the safest and most economical source of protein from meat in the world, and that is an important thing for world security. Hunger causes riots and unrest,” he said.

In addition, a 1998 ban in Denmark on all animal antibiotics used to promote animal growth (aimed at reducing resistance in humans) has resulted in a 110 percent increase in prescribed veterinary antimicrobials due to sick animals. And they are treating animals with large doses of antibiotics that are critical to human health and were not previously used in quantity, he said.

“I do not believe that’s the right track to help prevent antibiotic resistance in humans,” he said.

Scott Hurd, an animal scientist with Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and a former USDA food safety undersecretary, said he spent a lot of time working in the EU and has never seen such an increase in sick animals in his life.

That ban went in “willy-nilly,” and the results were disastrous, he said.

FDA is aware of that disaster and the subsequent increase in the use of antibiotics important to human health and has taken a much more thoughtful, deliberate route to mitigate any risk to human health and at the same time preserve tools that are necessary to maintain animal health, he said.

Hurd has spent more than 20 years studying salmonella and other food-borne pathogens and assessing the risk of antibiotic resistance in humans from antibiotic use in animals.

“The products we’re using on the farm are quite dissimilar from the products being used in human medicine, and the risk for those few products that are connected, as I’ve demonstrated, is negligible,” he said.

The antibiotics used in animal agriculture for disease prevention and control and to promote growth are FDA approved for proper doses and proper purposes and do not present an issue for antibiotic resistance in humans, Raymond said.


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