A coalition of health, consumer, environmental and other activist groups have announced what they call "a national public health initiative to prevent antibiotic resistance." The group calls the initiative – "Keep Antibiotics Working: The Campaign to End Antibiotic Overuse" – was announced yesterday in Washington, DC.

Dig into the coalition membership list and you will find a host of activist groups, including animal rightists and others whose ultimate objective is to pressure agriculture, and food animal production. Groups within the coalition include: Physicians for Social Responsibility, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Humane Society of the United States, based in Washington, DC; Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge, Mass.; Environmental Defense, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, based in New York City; Sierra Club, San Francisco; National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Des Moines, Iowa; Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis; and Food Animal Concerns Trust, Chicago.

According to the coalition's announcement, "the campaign is dedicated to eliminating a major cause of antibiotic resistance – the inappropriate use of antibiotics in farm animals."

This activity is akin to the Water Keeper Alliance movement that is working to shed a negative light on pork production and create inaccurate public perception of pork production's impact on the environment. In this case, the coalition's campaign is taking advantage of current public concerns over anthrax and antibiotics to inaccurately shed a negative light on animal agriculture's use of antibiotics. In its announcement, the coalition pointed directly to current events: "Recent concerns about bioterrorism underscore the importance of having powerful, effective antibiotics available to treat human diseases," said David Wallinga, M.D., senior scientist with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, Minn.

In the Water Keeper case, the activists are taking their claims to court. In the case of the "Keep Antibiotics Working" the coalition is heading for Congress and the Food and Drug Administration to push its agenda. Karen
Florini, senior attorney for Environmental Defense, said: "We will work with Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, and companies that produce and sell meat to phase out inappropriate antibiotic use in agriculture."

The coalition also is urging Americans to write to heads of pharmaceutical companies, putting pressure on them to remove such antibiotics from the agricultural pipeline.

In a news release, the coalition stated: "A major source of antibiotic overuse is livestock producers unnecessarily feeding antibiotics to healthy farm animals to promote growth and compensate for unsanitary conditions found in industrial animal agriculture."

While antibiotic resistance is certainly an issue worthy of concern, antibiotics overuse and misuse in humans is a critical and too often overlooked factor in creating resistance. Recent events of individuals stockpiling Cipro creates great potential for the kind of misuse that could render an antibiotic ineffective in the long-run.

The coalition stated: "Several antibiotics used in agriculture are identical or similar to antibiotics used in human medical treatment." Bottom line, the coalition's goal is to focus on those antibiotics and to get them removed from use in animal agriculture. The coalition has not indicated that it will work to educate healthcare workers or the public about proper antibiotic use in people.

The coalition is attempting to add credibility to its case by involving some meat producers as well. "Conventionally raised animals are often given feed that's laced with antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease," said Rob Hurlbut, chief operating officer of Niman Ranch, based in Oakland, Calif.

Niman Ranch markets its meat products as "raised meat without the routine use of antibiotics". "But if you raise livestock naturally and with care, you don't need to feed them antibiotics that can create resistant strains of bacteria in the animals that are passed on to humans," he said.

Agriculture saw a similar niche marketing position surface when Tyson Foods ran ads extolling the fact that its chickens received no hormones – even though no poultry producers use hormones in their birds. These sorts of marketing tactics may become more commonplace as producers try to carve out niche markets.

In these emotional times – for both in the public and government – agriculture could have a hard time keeping science in the forefront when it comes to making decisions on the antibiotic and other related topics. You need to be aware of these kinds of developments, and be prepared to actively speak up for your industry's production practices whether that means talking to consumers or writing your congressmen.

Information about the campaign, and to see what the coalition is saying about animal agriculture and antibiotic resistance, check out www.KeepAntibioticsWorking.com