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Beefs and Beliefs

Animal Antibiotics Argument Remains Antithetical

Emotion, lies and Congress have no place in antibiotic resistance discussion.

I've long been concerned about the growth of antibiotic resistance in humans and agricultural animals, but the shrill rhetoric we're hearing these days smacks of destructiveness.

Rationality is usually less persuasive in arguments than is emotional outburst. It's one of our human flaws, and a behavior coddled by our permissive and self-centered society. To overcome emotion one must step aside from personal feelings and try to weigh first the facts and/or scientific theory and then the causes of the feelings. This is sometimes called emotional intelligence. It's in short supply.

That said, I'm weighing in on the latest round of anti-antibiotic attitudes flowing forth from government, animal rights fanatics and even from our own side, the animal industries. I have toiled for years to understand this complex topic and still feel I'm failing to keep up. But a few things appear clear to me.

1. Antibiotic resistance is unavoidable, but the rate at which it progresses can be sped up or slowed down by the manner in which humans use these biological agents. It's a classic part of the struggle for survival and supremacy present throughout nature.

2. Low-level or sub-therapeutic antibiotic usage might speed up resistance because it exposes more bacteria to lower doses, thereby giving those bacteria more opportunity to evolve toward resistance genomes. Or it might not.

3. Bacteria can sometimes cross from a traditional host species to a new host species.

4. Bacteria can sometimes, but apparently less often, pick up resistant genetic material from other, apparently unrelated bacteria.

5. Humans misuse antibiotics in their own bodies perhaps more regularly than agriculturists do in food animals, yet that seems not even to be a topic of conversation in the current political environment.

6. We do misuse antibiotics in livestock, typically by improper application for the disease or infection at hand or by underdosing by time frame, and we all know it.

I'm not sure how we need to regulate these issues and frequently I'm not sure who to believe, despite my continued efforts to sort out science with logic and the rules of viability established by science itself.

But if we are to do a reasonable job managing this problem we must dispense with the emotional rhetoric and be very careful with rhetoric which appears science-based but is biased by money. That pretty much puts politicians and congressional hearings out of the regulatory arena.

If you'd like to see NCBA's thoughts on the current antibiotic regulatory environment go to the July 14 blog at:

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