A new ad campaign calling for the elimination of certain animal health products that prevent disease in farm animals could lead to unnecessary pain and suffering. Using the guise that antibiotics used for disease prevention in farm animals enhances antibiotic resistance in human health - even without substantive evidence to back their claim - this campaign targeted at members of Congress and their staff is intended to drive policy changes on the use of animal medicines already approved under the stringent process of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

"Farmers, ranchers and veterinarians take this issue very seriously. Nothing is more important to them than public health, animal health and well-being, and a safe food supply," says Kay Johnson Smith, Executive Vice President of the Animal Agriculture Alliance. "They understand the need for prudent use of antibiotics and are committed to ensuring not only the health of their animals but the safety of the food products they produce. Nothing could be further from the truth than claims made by these ads."

At the recent International Conference on the Use of Antimicrobials in Cattle Production, Dr. Scott Hurd, Associate Professor at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and former Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, "It is essential that careful scientific risk assessments be conducted as the basis for public policy rather than politically motivated ad campaigns. Decisions made without careful assessments can lead to harmful health risks, as well as unnecessary animal suffering."

Most scientists agree that improper use of antibiotics in human medicine is the greatest contributing factor in the formation of resistant bacteria affecting humans; not usage in animals like these ads falsely claim.οΎ  Regardless, the government, animal health industry, farmers and ranchers have implemented steps to ensure antibiotic use in food producing animals does not affect human health.

These protective measures include:
  • A stringent approval process that was made more stringent with the addition of risk assessment requirements in 2003. Some of the compounds affected by the proposed legislation are undergoing review under these new requirements.
  • Post-approval risk assessments that allow policymakers to measure the risks and benefits of a proposed policy have been conducted and published by FDA, sponsors and researchers.
  • Food safety monitoring and surveillance programs that have been established by government agencies and sponsors to track the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • Responsible use programs that are specific to the different livestock species to give producers specific guidelines on how to safely and properly use antibiotics in their health management systems.

Farmers and ranchers understand and share the concerns of the public regarding the responsible use of antibiotics. This is the reason for the significant check-and-balance systems in place. America's veterinarians, farmers and ranchers use FDA-approved antibiotics to treat, prevent and control disease which ensures the health and well-being of animals, as well as the safety and healthfulness of the food consumers are eating. In addition, FDA-approved antibiotics are used, to a very limited degree, to increase nutritional efficiency which provides environmental benefits through reduced feed consumption by livestock which, in turn, results in less manure to manage.

Emerging evidence documents the unintended consequences that can result when policy decisions about antibiotic use are not driven by science and risk assessment. There is clear evidence today from Denmark and The Netherlands that the removal of antimicrobial growth promoters resulted in more animal death and disease, which in turn led to an increased use of antibiotics to treat animal disease, and little evidence that antibiotic resistant rates in humans decreased.

Buying into the false claims of a politically motivated campaign will result in unintended consequences with negative effects on farm animals and consumers, with no benefit to either. Unfortunately just because a group can afford expensive advertising doesn't mean its ads are based on truth.

For more information on this or other farm animal and food production issues, visit the Animal Ag Alliance.