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What others say: Troublesome antibiotics

Published: Tuesday, April 3 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this April 17, 2008 file photo, cows are seen grazing on the farm near Rio, Wis.

Associated Press

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The following editorial appeared recently in the San Jose Mercury News:

Eighty percent of the antibiotics used in the United States aren't taken by people. They are given to animals, often to promote growth rather than because the animals actually are sick.

The Food and Drug Administration has known this for more than 30 years. It has also known for decades that antibiotics in animals, over time, decrease the effectiveness of penicillin and tetracycline in humans. It shouldn't have taken a federal judge's ruling last week to push the government to enforce a ban on agricultural uses of popular antibiotics. Nor should the Obama administration allow ranchers to skirt the issue and keep giving antibiotics to their animals to "protect" their flocks and herds from potential health outbreaks.

The agriculture industry has brought this problem on itself through the practice of packing chickens, cattle and pigs into tightly constrained spaces. These conditions put additional stress on the animals and increase the odds that diseases will occur and spread.

Until now, the FDA has issued guidelines on antibiotic use and hoped ranchers would follow them, but the guidelines have been largely ignored.

Now it's time for regulation.

Animals should receive antibiotics only when a veterinarian demonstrates they are sick. If the FDA cannot make that stick, Congress should step in and write legislation requiring it. While political leaders may argue about how much to help other Americans get health care, surely they can agree on something that threatens their own lives or their families' despite their generous health insurance coverage.

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