Antibiotic bill would compromise food safety, say farmers

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Antibiotics, Antibiotic resistance

Legislation that aims to stop the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animals would impair the health of livestock and poultry as well as undermining the safety of the US food supply, claims the president of the largest US farm group.

“Antibiotics are critically important to the health and welfare of the animals and to the safety of the food produced,”​ stated the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), Bob Stallman, in a letter to Congress.

The proposed bills would ban the use of antibiotics important to human health from being used on cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry unless animals are ill.

Endorsers of the legislation claim that antibiotics are given to healthy animals over a long period of time to compensate for unsanitary and crowded conditions, and to promote weight gain, rather than to treat illness.

But Stallman called on politicians to oppose the proposals, claiming that 40 years of antibiotic use in farm animals proves that such use does not pose a public health threat.

“In order to raise healthy animals, we need tools to keep them healthy – including medicines that have been approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),”​ Stallman said

He maintains that farmers and ranchers and the veterinarians they work with use antibiotics carefully, judiciously and according to label instructions to treat, prevent and control disease in animals.

And, according to Stallman, bacteria survival through food processing and handling is decreasing, food-borne illness is down, development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in animals is stable and resistant food-borne bacteria in humans are declining.

The UK based organic group, the Soil Association maintains that continued high use of antibiotics in farming is contributing to increasing antibiotic resistance in humans.

“The government often calls on doctors to prescribe antibiotics less often. But similar advice needs to be given to veterinary surgeons and farmers,”​ claims policy advisor for the group, Richard Young.

He added that the congestion problems associated with intensive rearing of animals means that the conditions are ripe for the spread of bacteria among the livestock, and he maintains that organic systems are designed with the objective of reducing the potential for disease.

And the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) panel on biological hazards (BIOHAZ) also claims that more needs to be done to ensure that the food we eat does not become a ‘carrier’ for antimicrobial resistant agents which could leave the body open to health risks.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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