The Beginning of the End of Routine Antibiotics in Livestock?

Our livestock don't need to be pumped full of antibiotics. (Photo: Laura Hadden [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

I couldn’t believe it when I read it this morning. The New York Times reports that the Obama administration is seeking a ban on unnecessary use of antibiotics in livestock. Why? It’s in “hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans.”

In written testimony to the House Rules Committee, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, said feeding antibiotics to healthy chickens, pigs and cattle — done to encourage rapid growth — should cease. And Dr. Sharfstein said farmers should no longer be able to use antibiotics in animals without the supervision of a veterinarian.
Both practices lead to the development of bacteria that are immune to many treatments, he said.

The legislation was proposed by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, and it’s supported by The American Medical Association. The proposed legislation would:

  • Ban seven classes of antibiotics important to human health from use in animals.
  • Restrict other antibiotics to being used only in therapeutic and some preventive use.

This is good news. The longer we keep pumping our livestock full of antibiotics, the more the animals and those who eat them will become susceptible to illnessess that resist those antibiotics.

Of course, this ban is nowhere near a done deal. Farm organizations will fight it. The details of it will most likely get changed as it moves forward through the House. But, it’s a start. It’s an admission from our government that this part of our food system needs fixing. That’s big.