The American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) refutes claims by a New York congresswoman that the evidence is clear that antimicrobial resistance is linked to the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in livestock.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), citing her background as a microbiologist, says “study after study” supports her contention that there is a human health threat from using antibiotics as feed additives in livestock rations.

In a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times recently, she says, “while some chicken producers and poultry purchasers have taken steps to reduce antibiotic use, the hog industry remains largely resistant to change.” Slaughter received a bachelor’s of science degree in microbiology in 1951 and a master’s degree in public health in 1953. She is serving her 11th term in the U.S. Congress.

The Slaughter bill, “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act,” HR 962, would “phase out antibiotic use in livestock for growth or preventative purposes unless manufacturers could prove that such uses don’t endanger public health.” The bill has 33 co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Health. A companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) has four co-sponsors.

Harry Snelson, DVM, director of Communciations for the AASV, notes this is an issue that the association takes very seriously.

“We are concerned that the science is still out on the impact of the use of antimicrobials in livestock relative to the development of antimicrobial resistance in humans.

“There are a number of individuals and groups with an agenda to eliminate the use of subtherapeutic antimicrobials in livestock, but the larger concern seems to be the overuse and inappropriate use in human medicine.”

Pork producers and veterinarians aggressively promote the appropriate use of antimicrobials through educational efforts such as the Pork Quality Assurance and Take Care Use Antibiotics Responsibly programs.

When the Danes banned the subtherapeutic use of antimicrobials for growth promotion in 2000, disease in nursery pigs increased. As a result, Danish veterinarians expanded the therapeutic use of antibiotics to treat diseases. The level of therapeutic antimicrobial now used exceeds the amount used prior to the ban on their use for growth promotion and disease prevention. Also, there has been no measurable human health benefit from the ban, Snelson stresses.

This week, the AASV board of directors approved a request from the association’s Pharmaceutical Issues Committee to prepare an educational brochure targeting veterinary members on antimicrobial use issues.

In 2004, the AASV adopted a position statement promoting the appropriate therapeutic use of antimicrobials, while minimizing antibiotic resistance and preserving public and animal health.

The position statement is based on guidelines for the judicious use of antimicrobials developed by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The guidelines call for the development of a scientific knowledge base for judicious therapeutic use of antimicrobials. It also supports educational efforts, preservation of efficacy, and current and future availability of veterinary microbials.