Congress urged to research antibiotic use in cattle

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and their staff were educated this week about the use of antibiotics in the beef industry after Kansas State University's Michael Apley, a veterinary clinical pharmacologist, traveled to Capitol Hill with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Mr. Apley and N.C.B.A. met with Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-IA) to discuss H.R. 1549, Rep. Slaughter's bill to ban the use of antibiotics in livestock.

"We appreciate Congresswoman Slaughter taking the time to visit with us,” Mr. Apley said. “I'm encouraged by her willingness to sit down for an open discussion and that she has extended an offer for us to be involved in the discussions moving forward. As a veterinary clinical pharmacologist, I work to evaluate the benefits and risks of use of antibiotics in livestock. It's extremely important that data-driven review and analysis be the guiding force behind every decision that affects the care of our animals and the safety of the food we eat."

Also concerned about H.R. 1549, Rep. Boswell was part of a recent congressional delegation trip to Denmark to examine the impacts their antibiotics ban had on the country’s swine population. “In Denmark, we heard from farmers who saw increased mortality and illness, in addition to higher production costs, soon after the ban was put in place,” Mr. Boswell said. “In fact, many small Danish farmers who raised pigs went out of business after the ban. Only the farmers who could afford to implement the ban did survive the transition.”

N.C.B.A. also held a congressional briefing for staff, where Mr. Apley discussed the judicious use of antibiotics in the beef industry as one of the critical tools used to raise healthy cattle. The briefing was part of N.C.B.A.'s ongoing "Beef 101" series to educate policy-makers about the beef production process, including the industry's commitment to producing the world's safest, most abundant, nutritious and affordable beef supply.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions and outright misrepresentations out there about why and how antibiotics are used in the cattle industry," Mr. Apley said. "The truth is, cattle producers and veterinarians utilize many tools including vaccines, herd health management, genetics and animal nutrition to avoid the need for antibiotics.

“They must adhere to strict, science-based guidelines in the use of antibiotics to treat, prevent, and control disease in livestock,” he added. “These antibiotics have passed a stringent F.D.A.-approval process, which has demonstrated they are safe and effective."

Mr. Apley works with veterinarians throughout the U.S. concerning using medicine in food animals and also in the area of beef cattle health. "Veterinarians and producers are intent on fulfilling their obligations to both human and animal health, and our current regulatory process provides methodologies for further evaluating the use of antibiotics in food animals,” he said. “It would be a tragedy to lose any valuable tools for preventing animal disease without substantial evidence for a benefit to human health."

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