The campaign to reduce the use of antibiotics in food production animals has come under fire with a letter to congress signed by 17 agri-groups representing meat and poultry producers, veterinarians and feed suppliers.
The campaign, “Meat Without Drugs”, that the letter refers to was started in June by the Consumers Union because it felt that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had not acted firmly enough to regulate agricultural antibiotic use, despite growing evidence that the widespread use of antibiotics on farms is contributing to drug resistance in pathogens that cause disease in humans.
The letter stresses the importance of antibiotics in animal production and claims the campaign title is misleading because antibiotics used to treat animals don't end up in the final product.
“Livestock and poultry are sometimes treated with antibiotics to prevent, control and treat diseases, but strict withdrawal periods must be followed to ensure that no residues are contained in the products we consume."
The authors also take particular issue with Consumers Union's claim that animals on factory farms are raised in crowded and unsanitary conditions - thus the need for drugs to prevent the spread of disease.
"This often repeated assertion simply defies logic from an economic and good husbandry standpoint," says the letter. "It can cost producers hundreds of thousands of dollars to erect indoor facilities - facilities designed by experts giving careful consideration to promote productivity by helping minimize economic losses caused by disease and the associated necessary treatment of sick animals."
The letter pointed out that the 80% statistic the Consumers Union claims is the percentage of antibiotics sold in the US are used to promote growth and prevent disease in factory farm animals, is actually the proportion of antibiotics used in all food-producing animals for all uses, including treatment of sick animals.
The document points out that the industry is working to comply with FDA's guidance on the judicious use of antibiotics in agriculture and on bringing medically important drugs under the control of veterinarians.
The signatories also say they would be willing to consider labels for meat to mark which foods come from animals raised using antibiotics. However they do not go so far as agreeing that reducing antibiotic use in animals will help slow the development of drug resistance in microbes. The letter cites a Denmark study which observed that reducing antibiotic use on farms did not produce a reduction in antibiotic resistance "except for a few limited examples."
The letter was signed by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Feed Industry Association, American Meat Institute, American Veterinary Medical Association, Animal Agricultural Alliance, Animal Health Institute, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Grain and Feed Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation, North American Meat Association and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.
To read letter in full