A new Bloomberg article accused drug companies of continuing to push the use of antibiotics in livestock feed, a practice that we have criticized in the past. So, is this just a matter of more "pharma bashing," or a legitimate concern?
Jared Hopkins writes:
Even as the industry prepares to comply with new U.S. Food and Drug Administration efforts to limit antibiotic use in American livestock, it is marketing the drugs to U.S. veterinarians while continuing to expand sales elsewhere around the world.
There are many different opinions on this matter. Even NRDC got it right (although probably by accident), which happens about as often as the Chicago Cubs win the World Series (1). They want the use of antibiotics (added to feed as growth promoters) in livestock stopped.
So do we.
But there is hardly a consensus on this. According to Hopkins' article, Jack Bendheim, chief executive officer of Phibro Animal Health Corp. said at an investor conference in September “Antibiotics work very well. We love these products. We love what they do for the animals.”
Well, maybe they do, but the explanation for the industry's rationale for allowing this practice to continue is not scientifically valid. They claim that, since most of the antibiotics that are used in livestock feed are not used in humans, then generation of resistant bacteria that could infect humans is not an issue. Perhaps people who are not experts in antibacterial resistance are okay with this, but we just happen to have a world-class expert as a member of our Scientific Advisory Board. He feels quite differently.
Dr. David Shlaes, the former vice president of infectious disease research at Wyeth, does not buy their claims about a science reason. Just because farmers are using antibiotics that are not used in humans does not mean that this practice cannot induce resistance that will impact humans.
"Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, or even disinfectants by pumping the drug out of the bacterial cell before it can do any damage. These pumps probably exist to rid the bacteria of waste products and toxins that they either produce or encounter in the environment. Under certain circumstances, they can press the accelerator and these pumps work harder and faster. The problem is that these pumps are not very specific, and they can pump out a number of antibiotics as well as triclosan, the disinfectant that is now being banned in hand soap. In this way, resistance to one antibiotic is actually resistance to multiple antibiotics. Not such a good thing."
So, no—it doesn't matter that antibiotics in feed are not use in people. They can cause problems in an indirect way. And, the last thing we need is anything else to encourage bacteria to become resistant. They do a splendid job on their own.
(1) That was 108 years ago.