As anti-consumer groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) carp about the health-promoting antibiotics that most farmers give to livestock, the real scientists have spoken. And for professional scaremongers, it’s not a pretty sight.

In a scientific paper published last week in the peer-reviewed Journal of Food Protection, a team of veterinary experts from the University of Illinois examined the claim that “antibiotic use in food-producing animals is a major contributor” to antibiotic resistance in humans. Here’s an excerpt from their conclusions:


[T]he role of food-producing animals in the origin and transmission of antimicrobial resistance and ”foodborne” pathogens has been overestimated and overemphasized … nonfoodborne transmission, including pet-associated human cases, has been underemphasized.

The Illinois scientists also took issue with those who ignore the many other sources of human antibiotic resistance (other than livestock use), writing that such shortsightedness can lead only to “biased inferences.”

The latest issue of the respected Tufts University Nutrition & Health Letter includes an advisory called “Steps to Keep Antibiotics Working Effectively.” The article contains no dire warnings about forcing food producers to phase out the antibiotics that keep their animals healthy. The Tufts Letter instead focuses on a more likely culprit: “overuse” by doctors.

“Both doctors and patients are responsible for curbing antibiotic overuse,” writes Tufts, because “if someone takes an antibiotic unnecessarily, even bacteria residing in others in the household can, through mutation, become resistant to the drugs. (emphasis in the original)

Add to the mix a report from last October’s meeting of the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC), whose spokesman, Dr. Ian Phillips, told reporters: “In 50 years of antibiotic use in animals and man, the development of resistance in animals has not made a major impact on human and animal health, and such a development seems unlikely to happen now.”

Driven by the siren-song of grant money and media attention, UCS, CSPI, IATP, and their partners in the misguided “Keep Antibiotics Working” coalition keep beating the drum for animal-agriculture reform. A more responsible activist movement would address the real problem — the overuse of antibiotics in human health care — but we’re not holding our breath.