The Dangers of Animal Antibiotics

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For years Congress has annually considered legislation that would restrict the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. This year's House version is called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. On Monday, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York held hearings on the act. We submitted a statement in favor of the bill's passage. Here's why.

First, every major public health organization has recognized the critical and urgent need to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. It is estimated that 70 percent of the antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs used in the United States are fed to farm animals for non-therapeutic purposes, mostly for triggering rapid growth and to compensate for crowded, unsanitary, and stressful farming and transportation conditions.

The feeding of antibiotics is unnecessary. Animals provided healthy environments rarely fall ill.

In a March 2003 report, the National Academy of Sciences stated that a decrease in antimicrobial use in human medicine alone will have little effect on the current situation and that substantial efforts must be made to decrease inappropriate overuse in animals and agriculture.

The World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the American Medical Association, among others, have all urged such action as necessary to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics to treat both human and animal illnesses. The continual feeding of antibiotics to farm animals is already outlawed in the European Union.

Second, from our experience on our own farm and the hundreds of farms we've worked with over the years, the feeding of antibiotics is unnecessary. Animals provided healthy environments--fresh air, exercise, normal interactions with their peers, and wholesome feed--rarely fall ill.

Antibiotics are an important tool for livestock farmers and ranchers when an animal does get sick. But the wholesale use of them in animal feed is making those drugs less effective, meaning that when an animal gets sick, its illness is becoming harder to effectively treat and can be dangerous to humans. So antibiotics overuse is damaging for farmers and ranchers. It's also hurting the farming community by lowering consumer confidence in animal-based foods.

The Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Production (of which Bill was a member) already recommended banning the feeding of antibiotics to livestock. We think it's time for Congress to take action on this important issue.

Presented by

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman are ranchers in Northern California. Nicolette is also an attorney and writer, and Bill is the founder of the natural meat company Niman Ranch, Inc. More

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman are owners and operators of BN RANCH, a seaside ranch in Bolinas, California, where they raise their son Miles, grass-fed cattle, heritage turkeys, and goats. They were featured in an August 2009 cover story in TIME about the crisis in America's food system.

Nicolette is a rancher, attorney, and writer. Much of her time is spent speaking and writing about the problems of industrialized livestock production, including the book Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (HarperCollins, 2009) and four essays she has written on the subject for the New York Times. She has written for Huffington Post, CHOW, and Earth Island Journal. Previously, she was the senior attorney for the environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance, where she was in charge of the organization's campaign to reform the concentrated livestock and poultry industry, and, before that, an attorney for National Wildlife Federation. Nicolette served two terms on the city council for the City of Kalamazoo, Michigan. She received her Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from the University of Michigan and her B.A. in Biology and French from Kalamazoo College.

Bill is a cattle rancher and founder of the natural meat company Niman Ranch, Inc. He was a member of Pew's National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which released recommendations for reform of the nation's livestock industry in April 2008. Niman has been named "Food Artisan of the Year" by Bon Appetit and has been called the "Master of Meat" by Wine Spectator, the "Guru of Happy Cows" by the Los Angeles Times, "a pioneer of the good meat movement" by the New York Times, "the Steve Jobs of Meat" by Men's Journal, and a "Pork Pioneer" by Food & Wine. The Southern Foodways Alliance named him its Scholar in Residence for 2009, stating that he was "this country's most provocative and persistent champion of sustainably and humanely raised livestock." Vanity Fair magazine has featured him in its "Green Issue," and Plenty magazine selected him as among the nation's five leading "green entrepreneurs." He has been honored with the Glynwood Harvest Good Neighbor Award. Bill co-authored The Niman Ranch Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2005), which was selected as one of the year's best cookbooks by the New York Times, Newsweek, and the San Jose Mercury News.

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