Congressional briefing by meat industry provides no new information

The Meat Industry* hosted a Congressional briefing on Tuesday (2/23/2010) in Washington D.C. on antibiotics in livestock and poultry production. The purpose of the briefing was to uncover, in the moderator’s words, the ‘true science’ on antibiotics. Contrary to his assertion, there was very little science presented.

Instead, the briefing featured anecdotes from two veterinarians (Dr. Craig Rowles and Dr. Leon Weaver) who each spoke on how they responsibly manage their own farms. I’m curious as to how representative this is of most farms. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a live-in veterinarian on every farm to diagnose diseases and prescribe medication on a day-to-day basis? Rowles admitted that typically veterinarians visit swine farms only once a month.

A third speaker (Dr. Timothy Cummings) who focused on poultry provided no scientific findings that supported his anecdotal recollections of flock health management with antibiotics in feed – I found this surprising, given his affiliation with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University. It would be reasonable to assume that he would have some interesting published data on antibiotics use in poultry to share.

The final speaker was a DVM/PhD researcher from West Texas A&M University (Dr. Guy Loneragan) who discussed antibiotic use in beef cattle. This was the first speaker to engage the audience with any sort of science, though his slides with data were not cited.  I appreciate Loneragan responding to my email with three citations for his slides.  His characterization of the science behind antimicrobial resistance as a black-and-white issue was misleading and polarizing, though I did appreciate his discussion of a risk benefit approach that implicitly acknowledged that there were risks to using antibiotics. Read More >

CBS Evening News Investigative Report Highlights Urgency for PAMTA Passage


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 >

CLF Responds to NYT ‘Farm and Antibiotics’ Editorial

Today’s New York Times carries an editorial, “Farms and Antibiotics,” in support of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, calling for withdrawal of FDA approval of nontherapeutic use of antimicrobial drugs critical to human medicine. Reprinted below is a letter submitted to the Times by the Center for a Livable Future:

We applaud the New York Times for drawing attention to the critical issue of the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in factory farms (“Farms and Antibiotics,” July 23, 2009).

We would like to clarify that PAMTA (The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act) calls for withdrawal of FDA approval of nontherapeutic use of antimicrobial drugs critical to human medicine, defining “nontherapeutic” as follows:

The term ‘nontherapeutic use’, with respect to a critical antimicrobial animal drug, means any use of the drug as a feed or water additive for an animal in the absence of any clinical sign of disease in the animal for growth promotion, feed efficiency, weight gain, routine disease prevention, or other routine purpose.

The Times and the PAMTA definition of nontherapeutic use of “routine disease prevention” suggests that administration of antimicrobials for non-routine disease prevention may be warranted.

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), an academic center that has supported an extensive portfolio of research on antimicrobial use in animal agriculture, maintains that use of antimicrobials in the absence of clinically-observable disease selects for resistant bacteria, and is therefore never warranted. The only permissible administration of antimicrobials in the setting of animal agriculture is on an individual animal basis, under the circumstances of overt disease, and at the direction of a veterinarian.

Your editorial notes industry opposition to the bill, indicating fears that it would make it “much harder for industrial farms to crowd thousands of animals together in confined, inhumane and unhealthy quarters.” No data support concerns that the cessation of antimicrobial use for growth promotion or disease prophylaxis will result in losses to the animal agriculture industry. In fact, a WHO evaluation of the termination of antimicrobial growth promoter usage in Denmark found that cessation of their use led to approximately a one percent increase in cost to swine producers and no net cost to poultry producers. Coupled with evidence (cited in PAMTA) that antimicrobial use in animal production increases antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the environment andresistant bacteria in meat products, ending their routine use will provide a substantial public health benefit.

We also applaud Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Principal Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, for recognizing the importance of PAMTA.

The relentless increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to the health of the public, and policymakers should move quickly to phase out and ban the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic use in food animal production. PAMTA is a good beginning.

Robert S. Lawrence, MD
Director, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Keeve E. Nachman, Ph.D.
Science Director, Food Production, Health and Environment, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

CLF Official Statement on PAMTA

Center for a Livable Future Statement on

The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).

Washington, D.C. (July 15, 2009) – The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) Director Robert Lawrence, MD, issued the following statement today regarding recent Congressional action on the issue of antibiotic resistance.

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives held its first hearing this session on the important issue of antibiotic resistance. The Center for Livable Future (CLF) applauds the leadership of Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and her colleagues to support the increasingly critical public health recommendations put forward in the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1549/S. 619).”

“A panel of experts from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, science and business communities spoke at the hearing about the need to end non-therapeutic use of antibiotics as growth promoters in the production of food animals. The increase we continue to see in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to the health of the public, and policymakers should move to phase out and ban the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic use in food animal production. PAMTA serves to curtail such use, instead saving antibiotics for therapeutic purposes only.”

Read More >

PAMTA Gathers Steam at Rules Committee Meeting

It was packed room at yesterday’s House Rules Committee hearing on the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). The hearing, held to discuss the bill (HR 1549) introduced by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, pumped additional energy into PAMTA, which now has 43 co-sponsors. The hearing followed several activities held during the past week to call attention to the bill, including a showing last Thursday night of the movie, “Food, Inc,” for Hill staffers.

Testifying were Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Mellon, Ph.D, director, Food and Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists; Lance Price, Ph.D., director, Center for Metagenomics and Human Health Associate Investigator, Pathogen Genomics Division; Bob Martin, former executive director, Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production; Steve Ells, chairman and CEO, Chipotle Mexican Grill; and Fedele Bauccio, president and CEO, Bon Appetit Management Company. Read More >

‘Take the Pharma Out of Farming,’ says Chipotle Founder

Check out Chipotle Founder Steve Ells’ write-up in yesterdays Huffington Post. Says Ells, “Many might think that a restaurant chain like ours would not care about this issue. After all, most restaurant companies focus largely on assuring a high-volume food supply, lower production costs, and increasing profits. From an ethical, economic, and public health perspective, pumping animals full of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick is way to cut corners, not a way to forge a sustainable and humane model for food production.

“Federal action to improve the conditions of our factory farms is necessary because these large farms account for the vast majority of meat produced in this country, but their practices carry a number of horrific unintended consequences – from polluting rivers, streams and coastal waters, to air quality problems, and endangering the lives of people by contributing to the proliferation of antibiotic resistant infections. Scientists and public health officials have offered a slew of recommendations to reverse these negative side effects, many of which are presented in a recent Pew Commission report on industrial farm animal production in America.

Ells calls for the public support of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) now before Congress. “I hope that private citizens will support the Act by contacting their local congressional representative. If the legislation passes, it could take as many as two years to phase out this indiscriminate overuse of antibiotics. It’s time to get the process started. Let’s preserve these drugs for the sick animals and humans who need them. Antibiotic use is not a prerequisite to life on the farm, but rather a threat to life itself.”

PAMTA Under Fire from Farm Bureau

In a letter to Congress, the president of the American Farm Bureau said that a bill to ban the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics, introduced last week by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), would hurt the health of livestock and compromise food safety.

A Reuters News Agency report quoted the letter from Bob Stallman, who told Congress that Farm Bureau members “carefully, judiciously and according to label instructions” use antibiotics to treat, prevent and control disease in animals.

“Antibiotic use in animals does not pose a serious public health threat,” said Stallman, who urged lawmakers to oppose the bill. “Restricting access to these important tools will jeopardize animal health and compromise our ability to contribute to public health through food safety.” he added. Read More >