Livestock industry officials are critical of last week’s CBS Evening News report on the use of antibiotics in farm animals.

The CBS report was “rather short on facts and science and rather long on speculation,” Richard Carnevale, veterinarian and vice president of regulatory, scientific and international affairs for the Animal Health Institute, told a media briefing on Feb. 11.  

“Antibiotics are not simply used to produce cheap meat,” Carnevale added. Rather, they are used to treat sick animals, which is much more humane, he said, than waiting for the animals to get even sicker and die.

“Antibiotics are just one tool that producers use to protect the health of their animals and produce safe food,” said Liz Wagstrom, veterinarian and assistant vice president of science and technology at the National Pork Board. Besides antibiotics, producers employ a number of management strategies, including proper hygiene and ventilation in livestock barns.

“Our bottom-line is we are very concerned about responsible use of antibiotics,” Wagstrom said.

“You are more likely to die from a bee sting,” said Scott Hurd, senior epidemiologist with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University, than have a few extra days of diarrhea due to a resistant  infection acquired from on-farm antibiotic use.

There are many steps that lie between the farm and the consumer that safeguard against any problems, said Hurd, former deputy undersecretary of food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

If you ban antibiotics in farm animals, there will be increased likelihood of the animals having Salmonella or Campylobacter on their carcasses, he said.

Hurd has posted a point-by-point response to both segment one and segment two of the CBS broadcast here.

In Denmark, where the use of antibiotics in farm animals has been banned, there hasn’t been any demonstrated public health benefit, but it did manage to increase the cost of production for Danish hog farmers, Hurd pointed out.