Meat industry groups are bracing for consumer backlash from a much-anticipated CBS Evening News series on antibiotic use in food animal production, scheduled to air this week after experiencing several delays.

The series, scheduled to air Feb. 9 and 10 (6:30 p.m. EST), is widely expected to be critical of animal antibiotic use, which has led industry groups to preemptively lobby and organize to prevent momentum for bills before Congress that would curb antibiotic use in agriculture.

vaccine3-featured.jpgThe National Cattlemen’s Beef Association held a briefing on Capitol Hill

last week to educate staffers and rally opposition to the bills.  Several other industry groups released talking points and action alerts before the series was scheduled to air last week.

“You need to contact your lawmakers and urge them not to support H.R. 1549/S. 619,” the National Pork Producers Council told its members, according to Meatingplace last week. “Reiterate to them that there’s no proof that antibiotic use on farms significantly increases resistant bacteria in humans and no indication that this legislation will slow the development of resistant bugs.”

Most consumer and public health groups disagree with the industry message. According to to a recent Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming report, “A key contributor to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the overuse of drugs on industrial farms.”

“Antibiotics important to human health are fed to food animals at low doses, often over long periods of time, creating a breeding ground for new and resistant bacteria and a potentially hazardous workplace.”

Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY)–the only microbiologist serving in Congress– introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, commonly known as PAMTA, or H.R. 1549, in the House in early 2007, and again last March. The bill would require that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), deny any new animal antibiotic drugs unless the federal government is certain the drugs will not contribute to antimicrobial resistance.

The bill would also ban the routine, or nontherapeutic, use of antibiotics in food-producing animals–a widespread practice in animal agriculture.

The late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced a similar bill in the Senate last year with 17 cosponsors.

Advocates working to limit antibiotic use in agriculture are

hoping the CBS series will build support for Congressional action. If the segments cause enough public concern over the issue, it’s possible that PAMTA could pick up some momentum, even amidst a jam packed legislative agenda.

“We’re excited this message is getting out,” said Robert Guidos, vice president of public policy and government relations for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, which represents over 9,000 infectious disease professionals.

Guidos hopes the CBS segment educates consumers and inspires them to think about how meat purchases can affect public health. “This is just a means for the food and agriculture sector to save a few pennies of profit per pound of meat. I think consumers are willing to pay a few more pennies to protect public health.”