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Antibiotics in Livestock


November 8, 2010



The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued guidelines, which support using antibiotics in livestock only in acute medical situations, and through a veterinarian. This creates serious issues for both the consumer, as well as the producer.

What’s the cost to consumers?

Consumers have shown concern about using preventative antibiotics in livestock, and with good reason. The FDA reports that two million Americans contract a bacterial infection during their hospital stay each year, and seventy percent of those strains are resistant to antibiotics. The Joint Commision Resources explained that those with antibiotic resistant infections such as MRSA incur increased costs due to increased hospital stay time. These costs on average are $15,000 more for patients with antibiotic resistant infections. By discontinuing non-therapeutic antibiotics in livestock, the FDA hopes to reduce bacteria resistance. Studies were conducted on ceasing non-therapeutic antibiotics using European examples; however, their results may not have the most positive

Scientists estimate that 70% of all antibiotics in the United States are given to livestock, such as turkeys like the one above. The FDA suggests lowering this number to cut down on antibiotic resistance.


Demark’s experience

In 2003Denmark banned the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in livestock. This has been a valuable model for weighing the pros and cons of reducing antibiotic use in the United States. Danish officials acknowledged that there were higher mortality rates in livestock after the ban took effect. However, those numbers decreased as better management practices were implemented. Officials also stated that the number of cases of food borne illnesses rose after the ban.

What would a ban cost?

Not only could the number of food borne illnesses rise, but the price of meat as well. Jensen Hayes of the National Pork Producers Council, estimated over a ten year ban, or elimination of antibiotics, the cost would exceed seven hundred million dollars. This would increase prices for consumers by two percent. Producers could also be forced out of business, as they do not have the money to pay for a veterinarian every time an animal gets sick.

If a complete ban on antibiotics were to take place, organizations such as the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmerswould be available to help farmers understand the legislation and adjust to the changes. The Coalition works with farmers and communities, aiding farmers in understanding legislation, and promoting the livestock industry to the public.

The FDA is currently in the process of making recommendations. This does not mean that antibiotics in livestock will be banned. There was a bill proposed to congress in 2009, calling for a ban of all non-therapeutic antibiotics; however, that bill failed to pass.

For more information visit the Fact Sheet section, or for my opinions, visit the home page.

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