An open letter to CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric: You do know what a journalist is, don’t you? It’s someone who doesn’t take one side of any story as the absolute truth. SHE always looks for balance by talking to people with a variety of opinions on a subject.
You reported on the evils of antibiotic use in agriculture a few months ago. I say “evils” because your report only quoted folks who seemed to be against the concept of healthy farm animals. Where were the experts who could explain why antibiotics are used? You did an excellent job of sniffing out the few cases of possible overuse and using them as a broad-brush condemnation of the entire industry.
There are, of course, plenty of people who can speak about the usually necessary and judicious use of antibiotics and other medicines in modern agriculture. Scott Hurd, associate professor in veterinary diagnostic and animal medicine at Iowa State University, is one of the best-known experts in the use of antibiotics in agriculture. On the off chance that the CBS research team couldn’t locate him or any of his colleagues, here’s a link to my interview with him a few weeks ago.
Katie, feel free to read the interview and borrow any of Dr. Hurd’s comments for any future followup stories. I’ll be glad to supply his phone number and e-mail address, too, or you can go directly to the Iowa State Web site and find his contact information there.
Maybe you could revive Paul Harvey’s famous line, “And now…the rest of the story!” and talk about how the vast majority of the meds used in agriculture are used to keep animals healthy. They’re used out of necessity, not convenience. In fact, administering medication to thousands of animals on a ranch or feedlot is really inconvenient for the poor cowboy who has to finish the chore as well as the animals who might not be too crazy about getting an injection first thing in the morning.
The careful use of antibiotics is an important part of a well-planned animal-welfare program, and the decisions about what medicines to use and when to use them is best left to the farmer and his veterinarian.
A note to the ag industry: The CBS talking head recently revisited the antibiotics issue and she was still standing on the same side of the aisle. Here’s a clip from the CBS news Web site and a few of her remarks:
“An update now on a story we're been following closely about a health risk most people don't know about - farmers feeding antibiotics to healthy animals - just to spur their growth. Congress urged them this week to stop doing that because overuse of antibiotics in animals is creating new, drug-resistant strains of bacteria that can spread to humans.
“CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric reports.
“Dave Kronlage of Dyersville, Iowa, told us he feeds antibiotics to his hogs before they get sick in order to accelerate growth and fend off diseases that can spread when livestock are raised in crowded conditions.
"You give it to them because you want them to be healthy," Kronlage said.
“But this week on Capitol Hill critics worried giving antibiotics to livestock, unless medically necessary, may be creating dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria that can be passed on to humans.”
Bottom line: No witch hunts on this issue, please. Ms. Couric and the folks in Washington need to talk with the Scott Hurds of animal agriculture and respect their opinions at least as much as those of people who’ve never been on the front lines.
Chuck Jolley is a free-lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Cattlenetwork.com and Agnetwork.com