Antibiotics in farm animals

    After a large recall of ground beef this month and worries that the meat was tainted by a hard-to-treat bacteria, there is renewed debate over what is causing drug-resistant infections. Those illnesses have become more common in humans, and some scientists blame the use of antibiotics in animals used for food.

    After a large recall of ground beef this month and worries that the meat was tainted by a hard-to-treat bacteria, there is renewed debate over what is causing drug-resistant infections. Those illnesses have become more common in humans, and some scientists blame the use of antibiotics in animals used for food.
    (Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pikaluk/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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    Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter and Congressmen Chaka Fattah are among the lawmakers backing legislation that would restrict the routine use of antibiotics in cows, pigs and other livestock. Proponents say the drugs commonly used to treat humans should be used sparingly for sick animals, not as preventive medicine or to produce more meat. Steve Roach is spokesman for the Food Animal Concerns Trust.

    Roach: The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act would essentially require the manufacturers of the drugs to submit data showing that they would be safe with respect to anti-microbial resistance. When most of the drugs that we are concerned about were approved we didn’t have scientific understanding of antibiotic resistance that we have now.

    Whenever an antibiotic is used the bacteria it’s designed to kill can become resistant to the drug. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is against the legislation. Opponents say restricting antibiotic use in animals may make it more difficult for farmers to keep their livestock healthy.

    Robert Mickel is an agricultural agent with Rutgers University. He says antibiotics are a management tool for farmers.

    Mickel: I think people need to have a better understanding of why they are used. It’s not that, ‘Oh, this is something we are going to use because it will makes us all this money.’ It doesn’t work that way. It is certainly used for the health of the animals.

    Right now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determines if a drug is likely to produce an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The proposed law would shift that burden to drug makers and require manufacturers to do a risk assessment of their medicines.

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