The Dangers of Animal Antibiotics

By Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman
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Photo by artbandito/Flickr CC


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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/07/the-dangers-of-animal-antibiotics/21286/