Last week a giant anti-consumer group called the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) unveiled an online website designed to give Americans the lowdown on where to purchase meat from livestock raised without antibiotics. IATP has received millions of dollars in foundation funds, much of it earmarked for campaigns to block or otherwise disable advances in modern agriculture.

Produced as part of the “Keep Antibiotics Working” campaign — which includes a dozen organizations bent on curtailing consumer choices — IATP’s “Eat Well guide” is based on the popular activist premises that livestock antibiotics are “widely overused” and are only necessary because of large-scale “factory” farms. Other members of the coalition are rallying the troops against Bayer and other livestock antibiotic manufacturers, and preparing for a lobbying onslaught in support of legislation introduced this Spring by Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

If passed, these bills would effectively prohibit farmers from using antibiotics to protect their animals from disease. But activists responsible for this current flurry of activity should be careful what they wish for: the Hudson Institute’s Dennis Avery recently noted that in Denmark, where antibiotics have been forbidden in livestock feed for three years, “there’s been no reduction in the incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria among Denmark’s human patients.” In fact, the Danes have dramatically increased their use of prescription drugs in farm animals since removing preventative medicines from feed troughs, as more and more animals are succumbing to illness without them.

Shortly after Rep. Brown introduced his legislation, the Director of the Scientific Activities Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association told Food Chemical News that data from the CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System “demonstrates that there is not a public health crisis with antimicrobial resistance.” Even more compelling was a news release from the Animal Health Institute (AHI) noting that “broad political fixes” have been generally “counterproductive” in Europe. “What is disturbing,” wrote AHI’s Dr. Richard Carnevale, “is that data and experience from Europe show some negative effects of banning antibiotics, including compromising animal health and food safety.”

Consistently lost in the shuffle is the effect that outlawing livestock antibiotics would have on farmers, but a 2001 U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that a ban would cost American farmers over $45 million per year. This loss would inevitably be passed on to consumers, in the form of higher prices for beef, pork, and poultry.