In a letter to Congress this week, a coalition of agricultural groups sharply criticized a campaign launched this month to reduce the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. The letter, signed by 17 groups representing the interests of meat and poultry producers, veterinarians and feed suppliers, stressed the importance of antibiotics in animal production and said the campaign title – “Meat Without Drugs” – is misleading because antibiotics used to treat animals don’t end up in the final product. “Our U.S. meat and poultry supply is ‘without drugs,’ say the authors. “Livestock and poultry are sometimes treated with antibiotics to prevent, control and treat diseases, but strict withdrawal periods must be followed to ensure that no residues are contained in the products we consume.” Consumers Union began its campaign in June because it felt that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had not taken strong enough steps to regulate agricultural antibiotic use, despite growing evidence that the widespread use of antibiotics on farms is contributing to drug resistance in pathogens that cause disease in humans. In April, the agency published a guidance on the “judicious use” of antibiotics in food-producing animals, which recommends that antibiotics be used only to prevent and treat disease among animals, but not for growth promotion. FDA has also issued draft guidance for drug companies suggesting that antibiotics used for growth promotion and to prevent disease require a prescription from a vet to administer. Frustrated that FDA’s policies lack teeth, Consumers Union is calling on grocery stores to offer only antibiotic-free meat as a way to pressure farmers not to use antibiotics in livestock production. But this week’s letter from industry and veterinarians says the Consumers Union campaign is misguided. The authors take special issue with Consumers Union’s claim that animals on factory farms are raised in crowded and unsanitary conditions – thus the need for drugs to prevent the spread of disease. “This often repeated assertion simply defies logic from an economic and good husbandry standpoint,” says the letter. “It can cost producers hundreds of thousands of dollars to erect indoor facilities – facilities designed by experts giving careful consideration to promote productivity by helping minimize economic losses caused by disease and the associated necessary treatment of sick animals.” The letter also points out that while Consumers Union asserts that 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used to promote growth and prevent disease in factory farm animals, the widely cited 80 percent statistic actually refers to the proportion of antibiotics used in all food-producing animals for all uses, including treatment of sick animals. The document points out that industry is working to comply with FDA’s guidance on the judicious use of antibiotics in agriculture and on bringing medically important drugs under the control of veterinarians. The signatories also say they would be willing to consider labels for meat to mark which foods come from animals raised using antibiotics. They do not go as far as agreeing that reducing antibiotic use in animals will help slow the development of drug resistance in microbes. “The issue of antiobitic resistance is complex and cannot be addressed with simple solutions – at best, such solutions are ineffective and in some situations could make the problem worse.” The letter cites a Denmark study which observed that reducing antibiotic use on farms did not produce a reduction in antibiotic resistance “except for a few limited examples.” The document was signed by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners,  American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners,  American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the American Farm Bureau Federation,  American Feed Industry Association, American Meat Institute, American Veterinary Medical Association, Animal Agricultural Alliance, Animal Health Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Grain and Feed Association, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation, North American Meat Association and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

  • Candice

    Good to see some pushback finally. It comes a little late because anti-agriculture myths have taken hold. Myths like large successful farms must be “factory farms” where conditions are crowded and filthy (they are not, of course). Myths like all animals are fed or otherwise “pumped full of” antibiotics and drugs of all sorts (they are not, of course). Myths like smaller struggling farms are somehow “healthier” than larger more successful farms (they are not, of course). Clearly the most vocal opponents of agriculture know the least about it as they prey upon others just as ignorant. All complaining with their mouths full.

  • redmm97

    We can cure the whole problem by either not eating meat or only by meat from organic farmers!!

  • Emily Johnson

    Uh huh. I live near several turkey farms, which are basically just huge metal barns with wire mesh covering the (small) openings. Driving by, you can see the poor animals pressed up against the mesh, desperate to get some fresh air and sunshine. And seeing those poor animals shipped to slaughter, packed, and I do mean PACKED, into semi trucks with no room to move, cements the obvious: these animals are NOT treated well. I do not believe that COFAs are “carefully designed” by experts; I’ve seen the filthy, overcrowded conditions with my own eyes. And denying that sub-therapeutic antibiotic use is causing the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is simply denying basic biology.

  • Sara

    I don’t know where you live, Candice, but in Idaho we have plenty of beef feedlots and dairy farms in plain view from the road that are very much crowded and filthy and raise food that I do not and would never eat. It’s not a misconception nor is it a secret. Have YOU visited many large scale farms? And while 80% of the antibiotics used in the US are used on animals, how can you claim that animals are not routinely and constantly treated with antibiotics? They most certainly are. I understand the point of the food producers in saying that by the time the animal is processed the antibiotic levels have dropped, but I don’t think that’s the issue here. The issue seems to be about what the use of antibiotics is causing along the way (antibiotic resistant bacteria) as well the effect on the final product.
    There are many kinds of farms, some are well run and cleaner than others, many are the picture of filth. The choice not to support that kind of dirty “animal agriculture” or to in fact work to improve both the living conditions imposed on animals and the quality of the food we consume is huge undertaking that should be applauded. Cheers to the Consumer’s Union for working to raise awareness. Of course antibiotics are a critical part of responsible animal husbandry, and not all meat can be organic because animals do get sick, and don’t deserve to be left to die or suffer because of illness. But certainly the structure and set-up of meat “farms” (proximity, feed, cleanliness) contributes to the need to use antibiotics and should be evaluated and managed much more responsibly. Consumers who just want to pay the cheapest prices for the cheapest food are just as at fault for the way food is produced as those producing it. Hopefully it’s a wake up call for everyone.

  • The organizations representing people who most benefit from the overuse of antibiotics are pushing back against any effort to reign in antibiotics use.
    Well, we didn’t see that one coming, did we?
    What I find interesting is the same people who say they don’t have overcrowded conditions in those fine big buildings are also the same people behind this year’s ag-gag laws that are attempting to prevent any exposure of what happens in those fine big buildings.
    You’d think that the organizations stating how good the conditions are in those fine big buildings would want to be the first to show the world exactly what happens in the fine big buildings. Just to reassure consumers.
    But no, they are going to enormous lengths to keep what happens in the fine big buildings, secret. Kind of undermines the whole “It’s great! And safe, too!” claims.
    I particularly enjoyed the play on words in the letter regarding the 80% antibiotic use fact. You see, according to the letter writing folks, not all the drugs are used for growth. Some are actually used because the animal is sick, or most likely will end up sick.
    Oh, well that makes it all better.
    For those who want to read the letter

  • Walter F., Wisconsin

    Well if all we need to know about anything we can know “just by driving by” that makes everyone expert…in everything. More accurately that attitude protects each anti-farm cultist’s right to know nothing and believe anything. So, be afraid, be very afraid…because you were told to be by some google eyed foaming at the mouth wingnut.
    Farmers would be fools to permit professional enemy activists onto their farms to film or just to look around. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell these hateful anti-farm fanatics would correctly understand the first thing about what they are looking at. They would spin everything to generate the most derogatory possible scare propaganda. Just read the hateful slanderous stories these flaming zealots make up about good honest professional food producers. They belong in an looney asylum somewhere, not running around loose flapping their yaps and persecuting honest people.

  • federal microbiologist

    From the Letter written by the 17 pro – IFAP organizations:
    “To address animal well-being in the long run, the advantages of current housing systems should be retained….”
    “As food producers and animal health professionals, our members’ focus every day is the care and well-being of their animals to produce a safe and wholesome food product.”
    “…..our members work hard to meet those challenges and remain committed to providing the best and safest possible food product.”
    From undercover footage taken by the Humane Society in early 2012 at Wyoming Premium Farms, Wheatland, Wyoming, a pig CAFO managed by Doug DeRouchey, and owned by the Japanese conglomerate Itoham Foods:
    “Get the f*ck on !
    You wanna f*ck with me today ?!
    I’m no f*cking mood !”
    (beating a sow with his fists)
    “Get your butt up !
    Go on, move it !
    Hurry the f*ck up !”
    (worker using a sharp prod to poke a sow with a broken foreleg; soon other workers kick the sow with their bootheels to force it to drag itself down the shed)
    “Pull this sh*t !”
    (workers poking and kicking a sow lying on the floor of the shed with her legs trussed)
    Do you believe anything the 17 signees say in their letter ?
    I don’t !

  • Sara

    Luckily “crowded and filthy” doesn’t take a genius to recognize, even from the road. Neither does it take one to recognize an unnatural and inhumane setup to raise animals. People aren’t as stupid as their critics wish they were.
    We have a small farm where we produce milk and eggs, and where people are welcome to come and no one is shocked about what they find here. Sure, your average person has become so detached from their food sources that there are inevitably lots of new things to see (and smell) on a farm, but as I have toured other farms of various sizes and visited slaughter houses and processing plants where we have had meat processed, it’s not difficult to determine the quality and cleanliness of what’s happening there.
    “Professional food producers” shouldn’t have to hide what they do to stay in business, and people deserve the opportunity and really should have the responsibility to see how their food is produced, handled, and processed. Calling people who disagree with common practices of food production looney or hateful because they are morally opposed to what’s happening with commercial food production is like being an ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. Food producers ought to be willing to look their consumers in the face and account for what they do. On our farm we do it everyday. Doing so preserves the kind of accountability that’s been lost in our commercial food system. Many practices (like raising animals in the dark and using gene-modification and drugs for unnatural growth) have been adapted for achieving profit and efficiency, and unfortunately for many consumers, those are the wrong targets and hitting them isn’t going to make us cheer – quite the opposite, in fact.

  • amd

    Smearing an entire industry, an entire food producing system with extreme negative opinions and isolated gotcha video clips is a moral injustice. One must conclude those doing the smearing, small producers in this case, are sick extremists lacking in intellect. Are they all this way? Most of them? Herky-jerky fly-off-the-handle fanatics are not exactly a reliable safe source of wholesome food for the new millennium. We have over 6 billion people to feed 3 times each day. The lunatic fringe objects to modern food and farming, proposes we have emotional people feed the world using anger and idealism to fertilize some imaginary non-system in some mythical archaic utopia somewhere. Sorry, we’re not buying it kids. No time for empty-headed tantrums or empty-handed foolishness. Right this moment it is mealtime somewhere on the globe.

  • Jem

    Here’s “amd” justifying US Agribusinesses institutionalized exploitative, nasty and inhumane CAFO treatment of livestock by saying that it’s necessary to feed the World — when, in fact, they’re just feeding their fat bottom line — with big profits off of cheap food. Sorry kidder, we’re not buying it…

  • Sara

    What small-scale food producers have the time or energy to devote to a smear campaign against the food industry about animal cruelty? That’s a joke. I’ll leave that to the animal rights activists. Kudos for them for putting in front of people’s faces the kind of system their food choices creates.
    There may be a place for factory farmed food in this world. Some people want to eat it, because its cheap and they have been duped into believing that keeping the price tag low is the what matters most. But people don’t always acknowledge that it doesn’t end with mealtime. Getting the food in people’s mouths is only the end of one problem and the beginning of another. Society suffers with antibiotic-resistant superbugs, hosts of other diet-related diseases, and gets stuck paying for the rising healthcare costs of eating crappy food and suffering with low-quality health. Americans spend some of the lowest percentage of their money on food, and some of the largest percentage on healthcare. Ironic? I think not. So should we feed the world and sicken it all at the same time? We’ve got that formula down. Perhaps it’s time for a different solution, at least for those who want it. So put what you want on your plate, I’ll put what I want on mine, and maybe we can ditch the cloak and dagger and just be honest about what’s going into producing the food we’re eating, and what’s happening because of it. Ditch the incentives and the roadblocks and just be honest. Wouldn’t that be refreshing.

  • Sara