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Study Sheds Light on Antibiotic Use


A well-organized, well-funded, and vocal coalition of groups is putting pressure on the government to ban the use of antibiotic in livestock production. They claim farmers are pumping masses of drugs into animals and that this puts human health at risk. A new study by Kansas State indicates that is not the case. Dr. Mike Apley, Kansas State University Professor of Veterinary Medicine, recently led a study using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a survey of swine veterinarians, “We were able to identify which drugs were used for growth promotion, disease control and prevention, and treatment by producers.” He said they were able to classify which drugs were not important in human therapy and which ones were important in human use.

Apley says the main purpose of the study was to get an actual estimate that reflects true use of antibiotics, not just estimating doses but surveying veterinarians on which doses might be used. KSU found that annually about 1.6 million pounds of antibiotics are used in pork production for growth promotion/nutritional efficiency and for disease prevention. A 2001 report, “Hogging It,” from the Union of Concerned Scientists claimed that 10.3 million pounds a year are used. “Pork producers use antibiotics carefully and judiciously to protect public health and the health of their animals and to produce safe food,” NPPC President R.C. Hunt, a pork producer from Wilson, NC said. “To denigrate America’s hog farmers by deliberately peddling misinformation about how they care for their animals is despicable.”

Apley says this gives a good baseline use estimate for specific antibiotics for specific classes of pigs for specific purposes. The KSU study, which was published in the March issue of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, found that 2.8 million pounds of antibiotics were used for growth promotion/nutritional efficiency, disease prevention and disease treatment. That amount is 368 percent less than the amount asserted by UCS for just growth promotion/nutritional efficiency and disease prevention. Numerous peer-reviewed risk assessments have shown a “negligible” risk to human health from antibiotic use in livestock production.

This study is important for the ag industry, Apley says, because establishing a way to estimate true use of antibiotics in swine will help other livestock producers do the same in the future. But in the end, he does not think the results of the study will change current FDA plans to limit antibiotic use.

Study Sheds Light on Antibiotic Use