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Published: Monday, 3/23/2009

Toledo area farms monitor debate on antibiotics in food supply

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A debate is emerging in Congress over the unrestrained use of human antibiotics in the nation's food supply, an issue that could affect large factory farms in northwest Ohio and southeastern Michigan.

U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) reintroduced a bill last week to ban such drugs from farms regulated as concentrated animal feeding operations, with limited exceptions.

The agriculture industry views antibiotics as preventive. Its opponents say the drugs are grossly overapplied to fatten animals and keep them in unsanitary conditions, resulting in the proliferation of disease-resistant bacteria.

Seventy percent of antibiotics produced in the United States are used on farm animals. More were used on North Carolina animals last year than on the U.S. human population, Ms. Slaughter said.

"We've really misused one of the best scientific products we've ever had," she said.

The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, of Washington, said it is joining the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in a call against the antibiotic-use status quo.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council are among those defending the current use of antibiotics.

An item on the farm bureau's blog last week featured a post by Chris Chinn, a Missouri hog farmer and farm bureau official who testified before a Senate committee in 2007 in defense of large livestock farms.

Citing research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, she said recent community-acquired infections originated among humans, not pigs.

"Fewer than 5 percent of animal antibiotics sold in this country are used by livestock producers to improve nutritional efficiency," Ms. Chinn wrote, citing safeguards in U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules.

The pork council said Ms. Slaughter's proposed legislation "would be detrimental to the health and well-being of pigs" and that it could increase costs, send food prices higher, and jeopardize public health.



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