WASHINGTON — Legislation introduced March 17 in Congress that is sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York would be detrimental to the health and well-being of pigs, increase pork producers’ production costs and the price consumers pay for pork — and it could also jeopardize public health, according to the National Pork Producers Council.

Chairwoman of the House Rules Committee and a microbiologist, Congresswoman Slaughter introduced the "Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act" in the House of Representatives. This legislation is designed to ensure that the U.S. preserves the effectiveness of antibiotics for the treatment of human diseases, according to Ms. Slaughter

Estimates by the Union of Concerned Scientists state that 50 million lbs. of antibiotics — nearly 70% of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. — have been used in food animals for purposes other than treating disease since P.A.M.T.A. was last introduced two years ago, Ms. Slaughter said.

"The practice of over-using antibiotics in animal feed is certainly contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria," she added. "This legislation will play a critical role in protecting the integrity of our antibiotics and the health of all Americans."

The proposed bill would:

  • Phase out the non-therapeutic use in livestock of medically-important antibiotics
  • Require this same tough standard of new applications for approval of animal antibiotics
  • Does not restrict use of antibiotics to treat sick animals or to treat pets and other animals not used for food

"This is irresponsible legislation," said Don Butler, N.P.P.C. president. "We are committed to maintaining the well-being of our animals, and we need access to a range of animal health products to keep our pigs healthy and, in turn, produce safe food products. This bill will prevent that, and we’ll see more pigs die and higher production costs — and that means consumers will pay more for pork."

When pigs have been sick during their life, they will have a greater presence of food-safety pathogens on their carcasses, according to an Iowa State University study conducted by Dr. Scott Hurd. And a 1999 ban in Denmark on some antibiotics used in pork production has resulted in an increase in piglet deaths and in the amount of antibiotics used to treat diseases.

The Slaughter bill, which ostensibly would prohibit the use of antibiotics that promote growth in livestock but which also would ban ones that prevent and control disease, was introduced to address the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, N.P.P.C. said. According to a 2000 survey of human-health experts, however, 96% of antibiotic resistance in humans is due to human use of antibiotics. And according to the Animal Health Institute, less than 5% of animal antibiotics are used for nutritional efficiency — which promotes growth — and even the majority of those prevent diseases.

"Pork producers, under the direction of a veterinarian, have a moral obligation to use antibiotics responsibly to protect human health and provide safe food," said Dr. Jennifer Greiner, D.V.M., N.P.P.C. director of science and technology. "Producers also have an ethical obligation to maintain the health of their pigs, and antibiotics are an important tool to help us do that."

The U.S. pork industry has programs — the Pork Quality Assurance Plus and the Take Care: Use Antibiotics Responsibly programs — that include principles and guidelines on antibiotic use that help protect animal and public health and animal well-being, N.P.P.C. concluded.

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