Center for Consumer Freedom
April 8, 2005


Yesterday [April 7, 2005] a group of activists, environmentalists and
public health organizations (including the scaremongers at the Union
of Concerned Scientists) petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration to withdraw approval of seven classes of antibiotics
used in animal agriculture. At the same time, a bill was introduced
in Congress to ban the medicines. Opponents of the use of these
livestock antibiotics argue that they increase the risk of bacteria
developing resistance. But the players in this debate would do well to
consider a recent editorial in the Journal of Antimicrobial
Chemotherapy, which warned: "National and regional regulators have
been buffeted by the winds of prejudice and perceptions, and the
selective use of scientific data by many participants to promote their
side of the debate."

The science on this issue is far from clear. And so we see the
familiar spectacle of activists in Europe employing the technophobic
"precautionary principle" to promote a total ban. Dr. Ian Phillips of
the University of London notes that this use of the precautionary
principle "[s]et aside scientific evidence, and so made decisions
about antibiotics that have in fact damaged health and not provided
any benefits to human health."

Consider a recent article published in the Journal of Antimicrobial
Chemotherapy, which reviewed a large body of evidence both for and
against using antibiotics in animal feed. It determined that "the
potential harmful effects of bans are often ignored." The article
eventually found that "an independent examination of the facts, free
from commercial or political influence, shows that the actual risk is
extremely small and may be zero in many cases."

The research also determined that banning some important antibiotics
may harm human health:

An even more disturbing conclusion was that, if the banning of
fluoroquinolones gave even a modest increase in the variance of
microbial loads on chickens leaving the processing plant, it would
create far more cases of human infection than cases of resistant
infection that it might prevent.

Meanwhile, veterinary professors from the University of Illinois
wrote in the Journal of Food Production:

We suggest that the role of food-producing animals in the origin and
transmission of antimicrobial resistance and "foodborne" pathogens has
been overestimated and overemphasized in the scientific literature.

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