Like others, America’s pork farmers are very concerned about the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the ability of doctors to treat patients. That’s why they have taken steps over the past 30 years to ensure they’re using antibiotics strategically and responsibly to keep animals healthy and to produce safe food. They are embracing a new FDA regulation that’s eliminating the use for promoting animal growth of antibiotics important to human medicine (this addresses a concern of critics of antibiotics use in food-animal production) and that’s requiring the feed and water use of those same antibiotics to be under a veterinary prescription. They also participate in pork industry-developed programs that include responsible antibiotics use and support federal efforts to track antibiotic resistance in foodborne bacteria from humans, retail meats and food animals.
But contrary to critics, such as Consumer Reports, which today published a very misleading article on antibiotics use in food-animal production, pork farmers do not use antibiotics indiscriminately. Furthermore, there is no conclusive scientific evidence linking antibiotics use in food-animal production with antibiotic treatment failures in people. Numerous peer-reviewed risk assessments, including at least one from FDA, have shown a “negligible” risk to human health of antibiotics use in livestock and poultry production. At best, the science on antibiotic resistance is incomplete, and a recent CDC report on the subject focused on overuse of antibiotics in human medicine, mentioning animal use of antibiotics only six times in its 113 pages.
Finally, calls for food-animal farmers to stop using antibiotics to prevent diseases are ill-advised and wrong. Denying pigs, cows and chickens necessary antibiotics would be unethical and immoral, leading to animal suffering and possibly death, and could compromise the nation’s food system.