Thursday, January 17, 2013


Use of antibiotics in raising food yielding animals is a subject courting intense controversy and no one knows the real situation at the ground level. Two important arguments one hears against wide scale use of a number of antibiotics by the animal food industry are that it makes many pathogens that cause disease in humans become more resistant to use of antibiotics when used against diseases and more than 80% of the US production of antibiotics goes for incorporation in animal feed stock. Both the above claims are sought to be debunked by a report which recently appeared in the media which makes some sense. Here is a take on this critique on antibiotics and animal food industry.  

From what I have been reading lately, it appears to me that the next big fight over agriculture's ability to provide consumers with plentiful, safe and affordable meat and poultry products will focus on the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food. And it also appears to me that the information being provided through media outlets is not designed to inform, but to misinform and play on the public's lack of detailed knowledge about the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food. And it also appears to me that the main thrust of the attack will be eliminating the use of antibiotics needed to maintain healthy animals in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. Eliminating antibiotics to control or prevent infections in our herds and flocks will eliminate many CAFOs and drive up the cost of protein to the point where many will have to look elsewhere for this portion of their diets. And many opponents of the use of antibiotics in animals say: "And that would be a good thing." So is the agenda to protect me from multi drug resistant bacteria or is it to reduce the amount of animal products we consume? To try and answer that question I want to supply the readers with some facts, facts that I will provide links for and can be repeated time after time as the truth, if anyone cares to listen to you. First of all, a statistic often repeated by the crowd calling for change is that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in animals. The 80 percent number is meant to be a distraction from the real truth. In truth, the numbers posted on the FDA's website, titled 2010  SUMMARY REPORT on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, are in total kilograms of drugs sold. The listing is not indicative of what the antibiotics were used for, nor is it an accurate reflection of illnesses treated vs. prevented, etc.
For instance, a 2,500 pound prize bull with pneumonia is going to be treated with a much larger dosage of an antibiotic than an 8 pound newborn with the same bacterial infection. But the numbers are the best we have for animal antibiotic use, so I will be using them today. For human use of antibiotics, the same caveat about weight applies. The antibiotic numbers sold for human use that I will use for this discussion come from a letter to Congresswoman Slaughter from the FDA dated April 19, 2011, citing the IMS Health, IMS National Sales Perspectives data Year 2009.
According to the FDA report, 28 percent of all antibiotics sold for animal use in 2010 were Ionophores.  Ionophores have never been approved for use in human medicine. Several other drugs sold for use in animals are also not approved for use in human medicine. When they are combined with the Ionophore total, the percentage of antibiotics sold for use in animals but having no place in human disease treatment reaches 45 percent.
The largest class overall of antibiotics sold or distributed for use in animals in 2010 was the tetracycline class.  This class accounted for nearly 42 percent of total sales. Tetracycline use in human medicine comprises about 1 percent of the total amount sold based on weight. Tetracycline used to be widely prescribed, but is now limited in use to treating the sexually transmitted disease caused by Chlamydia, Mycoplasma infections and Rickettsial diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. For these illnesses, there are antibiotics far superior to tetracycline. These other antibiotics, generally in the class called Macrolides, are the first line of therapy.

The above report raises serious questions regarding the role and credibility of scientists, the USFDA, the USDA and others involved in educating consumers regarding the truth vis-a-vis antibiotics use by animal food industry. If logic is the guiding factor the contention by the author of above critique sounds more convincing than the off-the-cuff opinions and views of critics who deride the practice of antibiotics use by the animal food industry. Another issue is that antibiotics in feed increases the yield of meat which is a desirable practice and no one should have quarrel on that unless it is proved unhealthy to the humans. Now that this controversy has been raked up there is a need for scientific clarity and make a revisit of the issue by those in power controlling the destiny of the food industry through their executive authority. 


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