AVMA Testifies on Antimicrobial-Resistant 'Superbugs,' Food Safety

The American Veterinary Medical Association testified Tuesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, addressing the preventative use of antimicrobials in food animals and reiterating the necessity of antibiotic use in livestock for ensuring food safety. The hearing focused on the emergence of antimicrobial-resistant "superbugs" in humans. Allaying concerns that use of antimicrobials such as penicillin and tetracycline in food animals lead to human resistance of the drugs, AVMA Assistant Executive Vice President Dr. Lyle P. Vogel testified that protecting human health is paramount to America's veterinarians.

"Because veterinarians are ethically charged with promoting public health in addition to protecting animal health and welfare, we participate in the prevention of both human and animal disease," Vogel told the committee. He added that scientific data does not support a ban on the preventative use of antibiotics in food animals. Evidence suggests, he noted, that when livestock are not given antimicrobials as prevention for disease--as has happened in Denmark since the 1990s--an increase in illnesses is likely to occur.

"Risk assessments demonstrate a very low risk to human health from the use of antimicrobials in food animals, and some models predict an increased human health burden if the use is withdrawn," Vogel testified. "Non-risk based bans of approved uses of antimicrobials will negatively impact animal health and welfare without predictably improving public health." Antibiotic resistance in some instances, he added, is ten times greater in Denmark than in the United States despite the Danish ban.

Vogel told the committee that the Food & Drug Administration's evaluations of antibiotics used in livestock are more stringent than for human antibiotics. The FDA evaluates each food animal antibiotic for human, environmental and animal safety, and additionally, public and private surveillance systems monitor the use of the drugs for the emergence of antibiotic resistance. AVMA's written testimony and information about the issue will be posted on the association's food safety advocacy web site, www.keepourfoodsafe.org.

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