In a letter published this morning in the Chicago Tribune, Iowa pork producer and swine veterinarian Craig Rowles sharply disputes the often-used estimate that 70 percent of all U.S. antibiotics are given to livestock for non-therapeutic purposes.
Rowles says the estimate, published eight years ago by the Union of Concerned Scientists, includes products that were licensed but never sold in this country. As examples, he cites oleandomycin and efrotomycin, said by UCS to be used in pigs at a rate of 66,000 pounds per year. Rowles says neither drug was ever marketed here.
“This estimate is junk science at its worst, and 8-years-old too,” Rowles says in the letter. He adds that “the suggestion that modern livestock farms wantonly misuse antibiotics does a disservice to some very dedicated people.”
Rowles is a member of the National Pork Producers Council. The letter as published in the Tribune follows.
As a swine veterinarian, I must respond to “Antibiotics and meat” (Editorial, Aug 15). You imply that overuse of antibiotics in livestock is a primary cause of antibiotic resistance, which is sapping the effectiveness of these drugs in treating human disease. To support that argument, you state as fact an estimate from the Union of Concerned Scientists that 70 percent of all U.S. antibiotics are given to livestock for non-therapeutic purposes. This estimate is junk science at its worst, and 8-years-old too. Among other things, it includes products that were licensed but never sold in this country. Two examples are oleandomycin and efrotomycin, estimated to be used in pigs at a rate of 66,000 pounds per year. Neither drug was ever marketed.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop from many factors, including use of household disinfectants such as antibacterial soap, and the extent to which antibiotic use in animals affects human health is not known. Nor would antibiotic resistance end if antibiotic use on farms were eliminated. It is estimated, for example, that the average child in the United States takes antibiotics for three of the first 24 months of his or her life.
The suggestion that modern livestock farms wantonly misuse antibiotics does a disservice to some very dedicated people. Livestock producers welcome a constructive discussion of how to lessen antibiotic resistance. But that requires a commitment to facts rather than resorting to simple and convenient mischaracterizations. Unfortunately, your portrayal does not meet this test.
Craig Rowles, DVM, Carroll, IA