Sunday, April 18, 2010

Using Less Animal Antibiotics Not a Matter of Animal Rights

There was a thoughtful opionion article in the New York Times Sunday about industrial farming and the potential over use of antibiotics to keep the animals from becoming infected. I found myself in complete agreement with the approach and, as a consequence, very open to the proposed solution. From the column by Stanford professor emeritus Donald Kennedy:

Agribusiness argues — as it has for 30 years — that livestock need to be given antibiotics to help them grow properly and keep them free of disease. But consider what has happened in Denmark since the late 1990s, when that country banned the use of antibiotics in farm animals except for therapeutic purposes. The reservoir of resistant bacteria in Danish livestock shrank considerably, a World Health Organization report found. And although some animals lost weight, and some developed infections that needed to be treated with antimicrobial drugs, the benefits of the rule exceeded those costs.

It’s 30 years late, but Congress should now pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would ban industrial farms from using seven classes of antibiotics that are important to human health unless animals or herds are ill, or pharmaceutical companies can prove the drugs’ use in livestock does not harm human health. The pharmaceutical industry and agribusiness face the difficult challenge of developing antimicrobials that work specifically against animal infections without undermining the fight against bacteria that cause disease in humans. But we don’t have the luxury of waiting any longer to protect those at risk of increasing antibiotic resistance.

I don’t know that it has been proven that antibiotic use in animals helps promote resistant bacteria in humans. But be that as it may, Kennedy’s approach is the right way to debate issues involving the industrial farming of animals–one that deals in evidence rather than rants, and which considers both the important matter of animal welfare–as opposed to rights–as well as the overriding concern of human well-being and thriving. Or to put it another way, more reason, less diatribe: Yup, that’s the ticket.

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