The Animal Agriculture Alliance is disappointed by the many unsubstantiated claims portrayed as fact in the widespread Associated Press article entitled "Pressure Rises to Stop Antibiotics in Agriculture."

Released on Dec. 29, the story was the third installment of a five-part series about antibiotic resistance in the United States. Unfortunately, the authors did not offer a balanced analysis of the complex issue, instead relying on biased sources to portray America's food producers in a negative light.

Food producers rely on science to produce a safe, secure, and affordable food supply to an ever-increasing population. Modern agriculture systems protect animals from harsh weather conditions and disease while improving food quality. Antibiotics are a judiciously-used tool employed by farmers and ranchers with veterinarian oversight to further their goal of raising healthy animals.

“America's farmers, ranchers and veterinarians are committed to ensuring the health of their animals and the safety of their products," said Kay Johnson Smith, Alliance executive vice president. "Antibiotic use in agriculture is carefully monitored to provide a healthy, plentiful food supply for all."

The AP article dangerously blurs the line between opinion and fact. Although the authors quote an unsubstantiated estimate that 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are administered to livestock, they fail to acknowledge that nearly half of the total estimated amount is made up of ionophores and other compounds not used in human medicine that do not impact human resistance.

The article also inaccurately suggests that animal feed is constantly "laced" with antibiotics. In reality, each antibiotic is administered according to the specifications of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved label that clearly indicates the number of doses and duration of use.

Although most scientists agree that improper use of antibiotics in human medicine is the greate
st contributing factor to bacterial resistance in humans, added protective measures have been implemented to ensure that antibiotic use in livestock and poultry does not affect human health. All antibiotics undergo a stringent approval process, including risk assessments by the FDA, and are subject to food safety monitoring and surveillance programs. Farmers and ranchers also follow species-specific guidelines for safe and proper use of antibiotics in their health management systems.

The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production's 2008 report, Putting Meat on the Table, is cited multiple times in the story, despite its many biased and sensationalized claims. The American Veterinary Medical Association and, most recently, the Federation of Animal Science Societies have found "significant flaws" within the Pew Commission's report, stating that the group purposefully chose not to incorporate the findings of a significant number of participating scientists.

FASS indicated that, while the Commission assumed that all large farms are inherently inhumane, there are many factors that influence animal well-being, including management, feeding systems, environmental features, and animal type. The Animal Agriculture Alliance Coalition provided numerous reports on the topics being considered for the Pew Commission's report, including antibiotic use, but input from the agriculture community was repeatedly ignored.

The decision to limit the use of antibiotics in food production should not be taken lightly. Scott Hurd, former Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the USDA, has warned that "decisions made without careful assessments can lead to harmful health risks, as well as unnecessary animal suffering." Indeed, there is evidence from Denmark and The Netherlands that the removal of antimicrobial growth promoters resulted in additional animal death and disease, with little evidence of decreased human antibiotic resistant rates. The Alliance urges reporters to provide balanced information about the role that antibiotics play in food production in future articles.

Read more:

American Veterinary Medical Association
"AVMA Says Pew Commission Report is Flawed, Unscientific"

Animal Agriculture Alliance
"Facts About Modern Animal Agriculture"
"Animal Agriculture Deserves Balanced Discussion"

Animal Health Institute
"Pew Wrong on Antibiotics"

"When Opinion Shouldn't Matter"

Federation of Animal Science Societies
"FASS Shares AVMA's Concerns"