Antibiotics report ignores food safety

Farm Forum

A recent Environmental Working Group (EWG) report blames antibiotic use in food animals for the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. This report overlooks important data and the facts about food safety.

Consumers can remain confident that strict government regulations and industry practices ensure the safe and precise use of antibiotics to protect public health.

The EWG report is an interpretation of the 2011 Retail Meat Annual Report of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), a joint project of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In releasing these data, the FDA warned that the data were not comprehensive enough to show trends in resistance.

Unfortunately, the EWG used the data anyway.

The EWG report overlooks the clear decline in foodborne bacteria. The CDC recently reported that foodborne illnesses and outbreaks are down 40 percent over the last decade.

In an April 22 statement, officials from the FDA, Center for Veterinary Medicine responded: “While FDA is always concerned when we see antimicrobial resistance, we believe the EWG report oversimplifies the NARMS data and provides misleading conclusions.”

Food producers take antibiotic use seriously. When farmers use antibiotics in food animals, they work closely with veterinarians to treat and prevent disease. The FDA and USDA Food Safety Inspection Service enforce strict regulations to ensure that meat and poultry products do not contain antibiotic levels that violate FDA standards.

Dr. Keith Belk, professor in red meat safety at the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University, said antibiotics are heavily regulated.

“To even get a new antibiotic approved for use in livestock production is a very rigorous and hugely expensive long-term process,” Belk said.

Belk said some antibiotics are given to improve livestock and poultry health throughout their lives. Better animal health means more safe, nutritious products for everyone. Belk said the types of antibiotics used to promote health are not normally used in human medicine.

It is also important to remember your part in food safety. Cooking meat and poultry thoroughly is a crucial step in protecting food safety.