Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, D-NY, hosted a Congressional briefing on antibiotic use in animals Tuesday and welcomed comments from panelist Will Witherspoon, a linebacker for the NFL's Tennessee Titans and owner of Shire Gate Farm.
Also included in the briefing were Frank Reese, Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch cooperative, and Michael Blackwell, DVM, vice chair of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production.
At Shire Gate Farm, Witherspoon applies high-welfare, sustainable farming techniques that almost entirely rule out the need for antibiotics, according to a press release on Slaughter’s Website. By following these techniques, Witherspoon doesn't rely on routine antibiotic use to keep animals healthy or prevent disease.
At the briefing, Slaughter emphasized the need to reduce antibiotic use in animals while addressing the growing public health threat of antibiotic resistant ‘superbugs’, according to the press release. "Decades of research has shown that daily dosing of antibiotics to healthy livestock is largely to blame for the rise in resistant bacteria,” Slaughter said.
However, according to the Animal Agriculture Alliance, “the latest Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on antibiotic resistance shows there is not sufficient data to link the antibiotic use in food animals to antibiotic resistance in humans.” Read the GAO report.
Also taking exception to the Slaughter briefing was the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). "There are numerous peer-reviewed risk assessments, as well as FDA’s own, that show the risk to public health from antibiotic use in animals is negligible," says Liz Wagstrom, DVM, chief veterinarian for NPPC. "We would hope that no animal suffers from lack of treatment for disease due to the premium received for meat from animals that do not receive antibiotic treatment."
"The Tuesday briefing was hosted by organizations that frequently combat modern agriculture practices," says Sarah Hubbart, AAA communications director. "They use inflammatory claims to promote legislation that would remove an important tool that farmers use to ensure animal well-being, food safety, and public health."
Slaughter is the author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, or PAMTA, which, if approved, would restrict the routine use of antibiotics in healthy animals.
Frank Reese, a Kansas poultry farmer and member of the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch cooperative, raises heritage chickens and turkeys on pasture, and does not administer subtherapeutic antibiotics, according to the press release.
“An estimated 80 percent of all antimicrobials sold in the United States today are being used to counteract the consequences of farm animals being confined in overcrowded, stressful and unsanitary conditions, and to speed their growth,” Blackwell says. “A direct link has been demonstrated between this use and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria "superbugs" that affect the health of both animals and people.”
The press release from Slaughter’s office did not cite references or documentation linking antibiotic use in food-producing animals with development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
According to the Animal Agriculture Alliance, the Animal Health Institute provides a well-researched rebuttal of some of the most common misconceptions related to antibiotic use in animal agriculture often promoted by activist groups.