NPR logo Fight Against Antibiotic-Fed Farm Animals All Uphill

Fight Against Antibiotic-Fed Farm Animals All Uphill

American agribusiness remains a powerful special interest on Capitol Hill. For proof, you need go no further than the farm industry's success in fending off efforts last year to reform farm subsidies.

A hog in Collins, Iowa drinks water. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall hide caption

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AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

On another agricultural front, there's a renewed congressional effort by critics of the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed to pass a law to curtail the practice which, many scientists worry, is causing many more antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

But agribusiness has opposed such legislation in the past and isn't pleased about the current push against antibiotics in livestock feed.

That view comes through in a New York Times story about the new legislative attempt in the House:

"There are no good studies that show that some of these antibiotic-resistant diseases — and it seems like we're seeing more of them — have any link to antibiotic use in food-animal production," said Dave Warner, a spokesman for the pork producers' group.

A blog posting with the headline "Antibiotics Are SAFE!" on the American Farm Bureau's website bore a similar message.

An excerpt:

There is no scientific association made between MRSA and the use of animal-health products on farms. Fewer than 5 percent of animal antibiotics sold in this country are used by livestock producers to improve nutritional efficiency.

Antibiotics are used in animal feed to kill bacteria that can slowdown the growth of infected animals, making it take longer for them to achieve market weight. It also helps reduce the illnesses that could easily spread between animals sharing close quarters on factory farms.

As the NYT story also reported, the Obama Administration, announced, in the form of testimony by the Food and Drug Administration's principal deputy commissioner, that it opposes the use of antibiotics in feed.

The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans.

In written testimony to the House Rules Committee, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, said feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle — done to encourage rapid growth — should cease. And Dr. Sharfstein said farmers should no longer be able to use antibiotics in animals without the supervision of a veterinarian.

Here's Scharfstein's testimony

Again, similar legislation in the past has failed to go anywhere because of the agribusiness's resistance. So it would be a real surprise, indeed, if the current legislation were to make it to President Barack Obama's desk for a signature.