An industry "white paper" on livestock antibiotic resistance agrees that antibiotic use, whether in humans or animals, contributes to the development of bacterial resistance. The identification of this hazard, however, doesn't measure the magnitude of the potential risk to human health.

The white paper also concludes that this lack of differentiation of hazard and risk can lead to regulatory measures that are "not defensible on scientific grounds."

In short, the judicious and appropriate use of antibiotics in pork production results in better rearing conditions, healthier herds, higher quality products and a safer food supply, according to the report.

Moreover, the study reports: "Loss of the ability to use antibiotics in a responsible animal husbandry program could have a significant negative impact on animal and human health.

"The public health problem must therefore be resolved on two fronts: assuring a reasonable certainty of no harm to either the human or animal sectors."

To that end, the report suggests that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine's conditional approval in September 1998 of a fluoroquinolone for cattle (Baytril 100 Injectable Solution) may provide the best health approach.

For this new drug, FDA conditions of approval include post-approval monitoring for the development of antibiotic resistance, a responsible-use education program and a pledge to voluntarily stop product sales should a public health threat be detected.

What's left is deciding what a discernible public health risk is and conducting risk assessments to make those judgments, the report suggests.

Without an apparent, large, public health problem, there's no need to "rush to judgment" by curtailing or banning antibiotic use in pork production, according to the industry report.

Instead, the report advises following a two-pronged strategy (from a National Research Council 1998 report) to better understand the conditions in animal husbandry that could "foster the enhancement of antimicrobial resistance."

1. Development by U.S. Department of Agriculture, American Veterinary Medical Association, FDA and producer groups of strategies and educational materials to expand the understanding and magnitude of these risks, and

2. Development of cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness models of different on-farm antibiotic uses to enhance the public health community's understanding of producer perspectives.

The American Association of Swine Practitioners and the National Pork Producers Council commissioned the report, "Antibiotic-Resistant Strains of Microorganisms Arising from Antibiotic Use in Swine Production: Can the Risks Be Assessed?" ENVIRON International Corp., an independent research firm in Arlington, VA, prepared the report.