A study conducted by Kansas State University shows that opponents of antibiotics use in livestock production wildly overestimate the amount given to food animals.
Using data from a 2006 U.S. Department of Agriculture swine survey and a 2009 survey of swine veterinarians, KSU found that annually about 1.6 million pounds of antibiotics are used in pork production for growth promotion/nutritional efficiency and disease prevention. A 2001 report, “Hogging It,” from the Union of Concerned Scientists claimed that 10.3 million pounds a year are used.
“The UCS report should have been titled ‘Fabricating It,’” said National Pork Producers Council President R.C. Hunt, a pork producer from Wilson, N.C. “Pork producers do not overuse antibiotics. We work with veterinarians to carefully consider if antibiotics are necessary and which ones to use.”
The KSU study, which was published in the March issue of Foodborne Pathogens and Disease, found that 2.8 million pounds of antibiotics were used for growth promotion/nutritional efficiency, disease prevention and disease treatment. That amount is 368% less than the amount asserted by UCS for just growth promotion/nutritional efficiency and disease prevention.
The study also belies the claim made by opponents of modern livestock production and some members of Congress – and repeated by much of the media – that 80% of all antibiotics sold are used to promote growth in livestock. (That figure always has been at best a guess because there is no reliable data on human uses of antibiotics.)
Several groups and lawmakers have pushed a theory that antibiotics use in food animals is leading to treatment failures in people who develop antibiotic-resistant illnesses. They support legislation to ban the use in livestock of antibiotics that prevent or control diseases and of ones that improve nutritional efficiency. (Numerous peer-reviewed risk assessments have shown a “negligible” risk to human health of antibiotics use in livestock production.)
“Pork producers use antibiotics carefully and judiciously to protect public health and the health of their animals and to produce safe food,” Hunt said. “To denigrate America’s hog farmers by deliberately peddling misinformation about how they care for their animals is despicable.”