The opening sentence in Clint Peck's article “Targeting Ionophores” in the October issue of BEEF Feeder (page 1) raises my concern. To report that health professionals are alarmed, and then further hype the story by stating it is fast become life-threatening, is to grossly misrepresent the facts, at least as I understand them.

The use/abuse of antibiotics is an issue that attracts considerable interest. For that reason, I think a major industry publication should be very careful not to confuse the issues or give them undeserved credibility. My argument isn't that you raise the issue but that the emphasis went beyond what I believe is the best science to date:

  • The Center for Disease Control reports that incidences of antimicrobial resistance have declined in recent years.

  • Denmark was one of the first to severely restrict use of antibiotics as growth stimulants. Results to date show no reduction in resistance but there has been a deterioration in animal health, which has resulted in increased antibiotic usage.

  • More than 40 years of research has yet to document a single case where antibiotic use in food animals has caused human disease due to antibiotic resistance.

  • Most antibiotics (used in the beef industry) have no application to human medicine.

  • Contrasted to the exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims by anti-agriculturists, the Animal Health Institute estimates the portion of antibiotics used for growth promotion is 17-33% of total usage.

  • Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is on the rise but most research-based opinions attribute the rise to physicians handing out antibiotics like candy.

  • The National Research Council concluded: “the use of drugs in the food-animal production industry is not without some problems and concerns, but does not appear to constitute an immediate public health concern.”

  • Two scientific studies comparing the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in vegetarians and meat-eaters showed no significant difference between the two groups.

  • With the world's population expected to increase by 50% over the next 30 years, the need for products to maintain animal health will increase. To compensate for the loss of diseased animals, if antibiotics were eliminated from farm use, we would need 23 million more cattle, 12 million more pigs and 452 million more chickens.

These points strongly suggest science is on our side. But, as is the case with so many other issues, the facts won't be sufficient to win the public relations battle. The article's statements did more to promote junk science that real science. The issue of antibiotic misuse is too important not to receive fact-based reporting.
Dave Larson
Big Timber, MT

Clint Peck responds:

You present some very good arguments in your response. Too bad more people can't or don't take time to dig into the issues like you have and offer their responses publicly and with such clarity. But, if you're looking for me to take issue with what you said — I can't and won't.

Go back and read my article again, though. I think you'll find it provides a fairly balanced look at the issue and certainly does not “promote” anyone's science or “hype” any particular story or view, or “grossly misrepresent” any agenda. In fact, I think it accurately and evenly represents the two sides of this issue. In effect, we are reporting each side's “interpretations” of science. Each side, as intimated in my article, acknowledges that the science on this issue is not conclusive or definitive.

If you have followed my work, you know I've never been afraid to look at both sides of any issue — even if it means raising the hackles of my readers. In this case it's a “fact” that human health professionals are “increasingly alarmed about the overuse of antibiotics in humans and of antibiotic resistance” and some do think it is “fast becoming a life-threatening public health issue.” And, many are pointing to animal agriculture as a possible cause of antibiotic resistance in humans. And, I repeat: This is certainly no small issue of importance to the cattle industry.

To not raise this issue — or for us in the animal agriculture industry to bury our heads in the sand and not recognize the arguments of those in the medical community — would be a mistake. I think you're confusing the reporting of someone else's views (interpretations or opinions) with promoting a certain agenda — and in doing so you think I give it “undeserved credibility.” This often happens when readers are so passionate about a subject; they tend to look past the caveats, qualifiying phrases and mitigating statements.

Would you prefer I not point out both sides of this argument — no matter how incredulous one side may appear — and only present one side of the issue? In whose best interest would that be? With regard to the issue of antibiotic resistance, don't you think our readers deserve to know what arguments are being used against them?

Dave, thanks for sharing with us what you think is the best science on this issue. I really feel it is worth putting out for public consumption. Hopefully, it will generate more discussion and add to the body of knowledge with regard to the issue of antibiotic resistance.