Documentary Explores Use Of Antibiotics In Food Animals

Lydia Zuraw | Food Safety News | October 15, 2014

On Tuesday night, PBS aired FRONTLINE’s two-part documentary exploring the increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance. The first half of “The Trouble with Antibiotics” focused on the science and politics behind the widespread use of antibiotics in food animals, presenting the history of the practice and attempts to link human illnesses back to animal antibiotics.  Highlighted research included the proximity of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) cases to crop fields covered with pig manure, evidence that use of antibiotics that are not so important to human medicine (such as tetracyclines) may expand bacteria’s resistance to critically important ones such as cephalosporins, and preliminary results of a whole-genome sequencing study that suggest that Flagstaff, AZ, residents with urinary tract infections resistant to antibiotics got them from the meat in their local supermarket.

Before the documentary aired, industry groups appeared worried about how animal agriculture might be portrayed in press reports about the episode.  The National Pork Board told members in an email that it was working with other livestock commodity groups, as well as the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, Animal Ag Alliance, Animal Health Institute, and American Veterinary Medical Association, “to monitor, engage and respond to” the coverage.  Industry’s “proactive steps” include offering veterinarian experts and farmers for interviews with mainstream media, a radio spot highlighting responsible antibiotics management, and paid search-engine optimization to direct certain searches to sites such as — the site for the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council’s initiative to promote responsible farming practices.

A U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance email reminded members to keep key messages in mind when answering questions about the episode: “Antibiotics are just one tool in the toolbox,” “FDA approval process is stringent,” and, “No cases of animal antibiotic use leading to antibiotic resistant superbugs.”...