Industry groups, congressmen argue to preserve antimicrobial use

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Dr. Timothy S. Cummings said removing FDA-approved antimicrobials from the market would limit options to prevent and control disease without necessarily improving human health.

Dr. Cummings, a professor of pathobiology and population medicine at Mississippi State University and a member of the AVMA Antimicrobial Use Task Force, was among speakers who addressed more than 100 Capitol Hill staffers and others Feb. 23 in Washington, D.C., during a briefing on the importance of antimicrobials in food animal production. The meeting was hosted by seven poultry and livestock trade associations and five members of Congress.

Bethany Shively, a spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said following the briefing that news media have recently given antimicrobial use increased attention, and her organization wants to correct misconceptions about uses in animal agriculture.

"We wanted to educate Capitol Hill staff and make sure that they know the truth about the issue," Shively said.

Some agriculture industry groups have particularly objected to two early February CBS Evening News segments on the use of antimicrobials in livestock, antimicrobial-resistant infections in people, and the effects of Denmark's ban on the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion. The reports included interviews suggesting that the use of antimicrobials to promote growth and prevent disease in livestock is leading to creation of antimicrobial-resistant bacterial strains that are putting humans at risk.

Dr. Craig J. Rowles, a swine practitioner from Carroll, Iowa, and a member of the AVMA Committee on Environmental Issues, said during the Capitol Hill briefing that antimicrobial use restrictions similar to those in Denmark would harm pigs and increase production costs without improving public health. Other experts said decisions on animal care should be based on science, that industry testing prevents antimicrobials from reaching the food supply, and that access to FDA-approved animal health products helps ensure resource efficiency and animal health.

The livestock industry would lose some antimicrobial uses if Congress were to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009, which was introduced in March 2009 and has been referred to committees in both houses of Congress. It is intended to reduce the development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria by banning what the bill calls nontherapeutic uses in livestock and poultry animals.

The AVMA opposes the bill and has argued that the bill would increase animal death and suffering without ensuring that human health would improve.

The sponsors of the Feb. 23 briefing included the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation, American Meat Institute, National Meat Association, Georgia Rep. David Scott, Texas Rep. Randy Neugebauer, Ohio Rep. Zack Space, Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.