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Antibiotics: AVMA Put Superbug Scare Stories to Bed

25 June 2008

US - Over the last few months new research has brought the issue of animal antibiotics into the limelight, raising a question of food safety and human superbugs, but the American Veterinary Medical Association has this week testified in favour of the antibiotics, explaining how they play a crucial role in the health of livestock.

Dr. Lyle P. Vogel, AVMA's assistant executive vice president, testified at the hearing, which focused on the emergence of antimicrobial-resistant "superbugs" in humans. Mollifying concerns that use of antimicrobials -- such as penicillin and tetracycline -- in food animals leads to human resistance of the drugs, Vogel made clear that protecting human health is paramount to America's veterinarians.


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"Some models predict an increased human health burden if the use is withdrawn"
Dr. Lyle P. Vogel, AVMA's assistant executive vice president

"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.

Vogel stated 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from the use of antimicrobials in food animals, and some models predict an increased human health burden if the use is withdrawn," Vogel testified.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.

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