NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Giving Antibiotics to Healthy Livestock May Encourage Drug-Resistance Disease

October 19, 2001

For many years farmers have routinely administered antibiotic drugs to healthy livestock to protect them from diseases that can race through a confinement facility holding hundred -- even thousands -- of animals. But some scientists are now questioning the practice.

They argue that antibiotics are creating superbacteria in food that are a serious human health threat. A New England Journal of Medicine editorial accompanying three research reports on the subject calls for far tighter controls on how often drugs are administered to cattle, hogs and poultry.

  • The value of the U.S. animal drug and vaccine market has been estimated at $4.2 billion annually.
  • More than 20 million pounds of antibiotics are administered to U.S. livestock annually -- by contrast, only three million pounds are used by humans each a year.
  • Some scientists would like to see government rules change so that antibiotics could be used to treat only a sick animal and only under a prescription from a veterinarian.
  • At present, livestock raisers can buy many powerful antibiotics for their herds without a prescription.

Officials at the Food and Drug Administration find these suggestions laudable -- but say they are impractical.

Source: Scott Kilman, "Human Threat Found in Giving Antibiotics to Healthy Livestock," Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2001; Sherwood L. Gorbach (Tufts University School of Medicine), " Antimicrobial Use in Animal Feed - Time to Stop," Editorial, New England Journal of Medicine, October 18, 2001.


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