A report from Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future published in Food Safety News, cited as a paper showing that medicated feed in animals poses a risk for humans, is little more than a commentary void of science.

Tom Burkgren, DVM, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, says the report in the Environmental Health Perspective’s March issue is not a peer-reviewed paper, no more than a political commentary that takes a very simplistic approach to explaining how antibiotic resistance develops.

“They fail to take into account that resistance develops very differently depending on what bacteria is involved and what antibiotics are being used,” he says. Their fix is equally simplistic: ban medicated feeds from animal feeds.

The simplistic line of thinking reflects the views of PAMTA, which was recently reintroduced in Congress by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY). Her bill, HR 965, the “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act,” would prohibit the use in food animals of antibiotics that prevent or control diseases and improve feed efficiency and weight gain.

Backers of the bill suggest that overuse of antibiotics in food-animal production is causing an increase in antibiotic-resistant illnesses in humans. The National Pork Producers Council counters that numerous risk assessments, including one conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have shown risk levels from antibiotic use in agriculture are extremely low and that nationally recognized scientific studies prove that removal of important animal health products could actually increase food safety risks.

“There is some data that shows the prevention use of antimicrobials results in a lower amount of antimicrobials used as compared to waiting until the animals are clinically ill and having to treat them,” Burkgren adds.

Animal welfare is also improved when disease prevention steps are taken, rather than waiting until the animals get sick and suffer and possibly die before deciding to treat the problem, he says.
Burkgren points out that the Pork Checkoff’s Pork Quality Assurance-Plus program has a section dealing with antibiotic resistance.

“As swine veterinarians, we put a lot of emphasis on judicious use of antimicrobials, proper mixing of feed and keeping good records, so there is a lot of evidence that the swine industry is responding to this concern and taking it seriously,” Burkgren asserts.