I asked pathogen and antibiotic expert Scott Hurd, DVM, PhD, former Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety, Director WHO Collaborating Center for Risk Assessment and Hazard Identification in Foods of Animal Origin, Iowa State University about his thoughts on this campaign.
“As a father of eight children I understand, as do these moms, that it is not possible to raise children without antibiotics,” Hurd says. “Raising livestock is no different. Producers and veterinarians need these products to treat and prevent illness, just like Mom.”
Hurd adds that very little product is used for growth promotion and much of that is preventing illness. “Healthy food animals are vital to provide safe wholesome protein to kids and moms alike.”
I’m not saying we can’t do a better job in the livestock industry with careful and judicious use of antibiotics – we can and we need to. That is a must. But this type of campaign and survey by the Pew, in my opinion, serves only as another food scare for consumers who don’t understand science, livestock production and the differences between human and animal diseases and antibiotics.
I believe the Pew is reaching when it parades these results from a survey that I believe has questions weighted toward a negative response when I read them. This survey was a carefully picked subset of the population who, not being familiar with agricultural practices or government regulations, were asked to comment on them and those comments are being used as the basis of this nationwide campaign. The Pew says some of those respondents have a household income dependent on farming or ranching (but doesn’t say if it’s livestock or crops). But for me, there was not enough detail in the questions or the answers about specific uses and specific regulations and I’m not sure how people without some knowledge of them can make an informed, educated decision.
Hey, I still go to my mom for a lot of advice. She raised four kids who are all college graduates, some with multiple degrees, and she has a Master’s degree herself. But I have to say on this matter, I’d probably defer to my dad who has a DVM, MS and PhD – and a lifetime of agricultural and animal health experience and who understands biology, pharmacology and how pathogens behave. And, like I have for this article, I also defer to my dad’s industry colleagues who have the same – and even more – credentials, degrees and experience in science who inspire me to at least question data that is presented to the American public.
I’m not dissing any of those mom’s out there (especially right before Mother’s Day). I just think the implications in this campaign that link food animal use of antibiotics to generalized human antibiotic resistance are misleading.