Plenty of concern, not enough science: Livestock antibiotic use a health threat?

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ACSH staffers were disappointed with the science writing in a Los Angeles Times article claiming that the treatment of livestock with antibiotics threatens both animal and human health. Melissa Healy reported yesterday that the FDA found that U.S.-livestock consumed 29 million pounds of antibiotics last year. This is consistent with a Union of Concerned Scientists analysis alleging that annual antibiotic consumption by animals is eight times larger than the volume of antibiotics produced for humans. The public health threat, according to Ms. Healy, occurs “when under constant bombardment by existing antibiotic medications, the viruses that cause disease evolve at an accelerated rate just to stay alive. The results: new viruses that are resistant to existing antibiotics, and a population that is is increasingly vulnerable to them.” Anyone with even a minimal level of microbiology knowledge, however, can tell you that antibiotics act against bacteria, not viruses. Moreover, says Dr. Ross, “the antibiotics are used as needed to treat infections, prevent spread to uninfected animals, and promote growth. Perhaps if Ms. Healy had bothered to consult a source outside of the Union of Concerned Scientists, she would have learned that tetracyclines — the most common antibiotic used in animals — are rarely prescribed nowadays to treat the bugs that are becoming antibiotic-resistant in humans, such as MRSA.”