The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric aired yet another report last night detailing the risks associated with feeding antibiotics to farm animals. The report is a follow-up to a series aired in February and reported on here in the LivableFutureBlog. In last night’s report, Couric covers Wedneday’s Congressional hearing held to determine whether or not the feeding of antibiotics to healthy farm animals could pose a significant health risk to humans. This was the third, and final, Congressional hearing on antibiotic resistance. At the hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, a representative of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) finally caught up with the rest of the world—and his peers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—and admitted that the use of antibiotics in farm animal feed is contributing to the growing problem of deadly antibiotic resistance in America.Dr. John Clifford, Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) read from his previously submitted testimony that the USDA believes it is likely that U.S. use of antibiotics in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of resistance in humans and the animals.
The Center for a Livable Future submitted a written statement to the House Committee. “The Food & Drug Administration recently released a draft “guidance document” that reviewed the evidence linking antimicrobial resistance to food animal production,” Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future wrote. ” FDA concludes, ‘Using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production purposes is not in the interest of protecting and promoting public health.’ FDA clearly supports the conclusions of public health researchers discussed here, and has begun taking action in response to antimicrobial resistance accelerated by animal agriculture. No scientific debate exists on these issues–only political questions remain.
“I commend members for their leadership on this topic, and urge further action to fully prohibit using antimicrobial drugs for growth promotion and prophylaxis. Preserving the efficacy of antimicrobials in human medicine require immediate action, and I urge Congress to move quickly in taking steps to protect the public’s health.”
Many other influential media outlets are giving the issue of antibiotics in animal feed significant coverage. A recent article in DesMoinesRegister.com, “Antibiotics in livestock affects humans, USDA testifies,” notes the “Agriculture Department, which livestock producers have traditionally relied on to advocated for their interests, backed the idea of a link between animal use of antibiotics and human health.”
Yesterday, CBS News’ Katie Couric had former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler and “Fast Food Nation” author Eric Schlosser on @katiecouric to discuss further last week’s two-part series on the overuse of antibiotics in industrial farm animal production. “There are real risks here, using drugs in a non-therapuetic context,” Dr. David Kessler said. “This industry has a record of viciously going after anyone who criticizes their practices,” Schlosser told Couric, recalling the industry suit against talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
I hope every lawmaker on Capitol Hill had a chance to watch CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric’s two-part investigative series on the risks of using antibiotics as growth promoters in food animals. After viewing both pieces it would be difficult for most people to question the immediate need to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). PAMTA would effectively end the practice of administering constant low doses of antibiotics important to human health in food animals in the hopes of reducing the spread of antibiotic-resistant diseases among the general public. As we mentioned Tuesday, the first installment of the series highlighted the connections between industrial food animal production and the growing number of antibiotic resistant infections across the country.Couric’s second installment dismantled several arguments which critics of PAMTA often use to dissuade passage. I’ll point out just two.
First, the report puts to rest the deceptive claims by PAMTA opponents who point to outdated data from Denmark that they say proves an antibiotic-ban in the U.S. would hurt farmers. Opponents allude that the Danish ban on non-therapeutic antibiotics in food animals was a failure, claiming the numbers show the ban increased the mortality of piglets and required the increase of therapeutic antibiotic usage to treat sick pigs. Couric’s second report opened in Denmark, focusing on the “Danish Experience.” Farmers and researchers there tell a much different story. Couric interviewed Danish hog farmer Soren Helmer, who said, “We thought we could not produce pigs as efficient as we did before. But that was proven wrong.” Couric reported, “since the ban the Danish pork industry has grown by 43 percent making it one of the top exporters in the world.”
As I pointed out in an earlier blog post, Danish scientists, from the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, Drs. Frank Møller Aarestrup and Henrik Wegener, submitted last July written testimony for a U.S. House Committees Rules hearing on PAMTA. They wrote, “As you may be aware, representatives of organizations funded by U.S. agri-business have criticized and mis-represented the facts on the Danish ban of antibiotics since its inception.” The scientists found that the total antibiotic use for pork decreased by 50% and that piglet deaths initially increased, but after improving animal living conditions those numbers have since dipped below pre-ban numbers. Read More >