Four senators — three Democrats and a Republican — have introduced legislation that would restrict the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, according to a report from The Hill.

The bill is a companion measure to legislation introduced earlier in the House by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY). It would ban farmers from using seven classes of antibiotics critical for human health to treat sick animals.

The bill comes as the House has repealed a provision of the 2012 agriculture spending bill that aimed to prevent the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from similarly restricting antibiotic use in livestock and poultry. The amendment, from Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), drew concerns from Energy and Commerce Chair Fred Upton (R-MI) because of its wide-ranging policy implications.

“Congressman Rehberg has been working with Chairman Upton to highlight his concerns about FDA's burdensome and unscientific regulations on Montana's ag community while avoiding any unintended consequences that could come through the appropriations process," Rehberg spokesman Jed Link told The Hill.

 

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The agricultural and animal drug industries say current practices are safe and keep animals healthy. A new study of E. coli in the scientific journal Microbial Drug Resistance, however, raises concerns that low doses of antibiotics, of the sort administered on U.S. farms to promote animal growth, create the "greatest risk" of promoting drug-resistant bacteria.

“The extensive use of antibiotics in the agricultural sector has turned farms into sources of resistant microbes,” the study says. “The resistance selected for in the agricultural setting may be a direct threat as zoonotic agents become resistant or it can be indirect as it is eventually transferred from animal commensals to human pathogens.”

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). It was immediately praised by the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.

“The emergence of drug-resistant superbugs is a human health problem that affects us all,” said Laura Rogers, the program's project director. “We commend Senator Feinstein, Senator Collins, Senator Reed and Senator Boxer for their bipartisan collaboration to ensure that our antibiotics will work for us when we need them most.”

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