Turkey recall revives battle over antibiotics

August 15, 2011

According to The Wall Street Journal, the outbreak of illness from turkey contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Salmonella is reviving a debate over whether federal regulators need to curtail the use of antibiotics in livestock. Livestock consumed some 28.6 million lbs of antibiotics in 2009, most of it in feed, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While that may prevent disease in the short term, some food safety specialists say that over time, the heavy use promotes the evolution of bacteria that can fight off the drugs and threaten humans.

Supporters of current practice say consistently putting antibiotics in feed may actually help human health by reducing animal diseases. They also say the antibiotics promote livestock growth—because the animals use up less energy fighting off infections—and bring lower meat prices for consumers.

The FDA last year issued draft guidance calling for limits on antibiotic use in livestock, but it said its recommendations were voluntary for the time being. The focus now is on whether the FDA will turn that guidance into mandatory rules for the industry. An FDA spokeswoman said it is working on how to implement the recommendations but declined to give details.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) and five fellow lawmakers sent a letter to the FDA on Aug. 9 calling on it to make the rules final. In an interview, she called the latest outbreak “an urgent reminder that the use of antibiotics on farms must be monitored.”

In an ePerspective post earlier this year, Doug Wolf, President of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), argues that there’s no science behind claims that antibiotic use in food-animal production is causing antibiotic resistance in people. The U.S. pork industry believes that more research is needed on the causes of antibiotic resistance before any antibiotics are banned or restricted from use in food-animal production. Indeed, the risk of not using antibiotics may outweigh any risk of using them. Wolf believes that taking away important animal health products would be bad for animals, bad for farmers, and bad for consumers. What are your thoughts on the issue? Do the benefits of animal antibiotics outweigh any potential risks? Share your opinions at IFT’s ePerspective.

The Wall Street Journal article

Doug Wolf’s ePerspective