April 16, 2014

Campaign to end antibiotic use in healthy livestock

Representatives of a non-profit group seeking to curtail the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock are in Iowa this week, to hold public and private meetings on the topic.

Gail Hansen, a veterinarian, is with the Pew Charitable Trust’s Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.  According to Hansen, as antibiotic use in animals has grown, so has antibiotic resistant bacteria.

“People really need to know that we are really at a crisis now,” Hansen said during an interview with Radio Iowa. “Back in the day, or back when antibiotics were first discovered, it seemed like there was a new antibiotic every week and so we were always sort of one step ahead of the game. Well, we’re running out of new antibiotics…Physicians are running out of options to treat people when they get sick.”

Lance Price, a professor of environmental health at George Washington University, said antibiotics are being used in the daily feed rations for cattle and pigs, whether the animals are sick or healthy.

“Trying to prevent diseases and they’re trying to make animals grow more efficiently, so it’s really part of the formula of converting dry feed into lean muscle mass, which is meat, and so they’re trying to do it as efficiently as possible,” Price told Radio Iowa, “but in my eyes as a public health person what I see them doing is using the crown jewels of modern medicine as cheap production tools and I find it unacceptable.”

When humans get sick from eating meat or poultry that’s contaminated with bacteria — like e-coli — Price said in a growing number of cases the bacteria is resistant to antibiotics.

“We’ve been dealing with bacteria on our meat since the day we started slaughtering animals. It’s just an inevitable part of the process,” Price said. “The problem with making the bacteria resistant to antibiotics is that when (humans) get infected with them, with those bacteria, we don’t have that option of treating them with antibiotics anymore and so the cleanest way, the most efficient way to reduce antibiotic resistance is to quit feeding animals antibiotics.”

According to Price, livestock producers in the country of Denmark have successfully moved away from using antibiotics in feed rations.

It’s unclear how many U.S. livestock producers regularly use antibiotics in feed rations. Some swine producers, for example, use antibiotics in water to prevent the rapid spread of respiratory diseases that can quickly wipe out an entire herd.

Price, Hansen and others from the Pew Charitable Trust campaign against antibiotics use in healthy animals arrived in Iowa Monday and visited a large-scale livestock confinement before meetings with state officials, an Iowa State University researcher and others involved in the livestock industry. They’ll host a roundtable discussion at Des Moines University early this morning and a luncheon in Des Moines for consumers.