Reinvigorated food-safety debates have brought back some old issues.

Source of Article:


(, April 17, 2009)
by Steve Bjerklie


As the Salmonella outbreaks traced to contaminated peanuts and now pistachios have re-energized the debate over how food safety should be improved and regulated in the U.S., so has the reinvigorated discussion brought back older issues for new examination.

Last month, the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff digressed from his usual focus on human rights abuses to comment on an apparent increase in the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are showing up "even in our food supply." "Five out of 90 samples of retail pork in Louisiana tested positive for MRSA – an antibiotic-resistant staph infection – according to a peer-reviewed study publish in Applied and Environmental Microbiology last year," he wrote. "Yet the central problem here isn’t pigs, it’s humans. Unlike Europe and even South Korea, the United States still bows to agribusiness interested by permitting the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed. That’s unconscionable."

The Kristoff column coincided with new focus on proposed legislation by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., first presented in 2007, that would ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, and follows last year’s report from the Pew Trust condemning overuse of antibiotics in agriculture, particularly for growth-promoting purposes in livestock.

Dave Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, told that the various proposals being made on in Congress to revamp the U.S.’s food-safety regulatory system, in the wake of the peanut and pistachio Salmonella recalls and concerns over imported food contaminated with dangerous chemicals, create an opportunity for bills like the Slaughter-Kennedy proposal to be attached to broader food-safety reform legislation. "We’re a little more wary this time," he said, noting that in the past, legislative proposals to limit agricultural use of antibiotics have stalled or died. "Food-safety legislation is going to happen, there’s almost no question. I think we’ll see strong attempts to attach" the Slaughter-Kennedy proposal to food-safety reform. He added that he expects to see "some action on this" before the August congressional recess, "although there probably won’t be anything ready for the President to sign." Warner also point out that the Child Nutrition Act is set to expire at the end of September this year, and Congress may also see the renewal of this legislation as an opportunity to introduce various food-safety reforms, including the Slaughter-Kennedy legislation.

The argument that widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria has been circulating among microbiologists and other scientists since the 1970s, and was first popularized in 1984 with the publication of the book "Modern Meat" by Orville Schell, parts of which were serialized in The New Yorker magazine.

Warner said that since then, Americans seem to have become even more casual about antibiotics even while voices protesting non-therapeutic antibiotic use in livestock have grown louder. "Just about every kitchen and bathroom in the country has antibacterial soap in it," he commented to "And we hardly let our kids play outside in the dirt anymore, where they can be exposed naturally to bacteria and thus develop resistance. We’re not allowing kids to build up immunity. Even our buildings are airtight. We’re not allowing ourselves to be exposed to the things that would make us immune from these pathogens." According to Warner, "all the MRSA outbreaks have been in urban areas, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence."

According to NPPC figures, just five percent of antibiotics fed to hogs are given for growth-promotion; the rest are given to the animals for disease prevention and disease-control therapy. In Denmark, where non-therapeutic use of antibiotics was banned for hog production, Warner said there was a "huge increase" in demand for antibiotics for disease because hog disease rates increased substantially after the ban was instituted.

But Kristoff at the Times wrote that it is "an almost universal view in the public health world" that supposed over-use of antibiotics in livestock is robbing the medical profession of one of its most important tools. "The Infectious Diseases Society of America has declared antibiotic resisted a ‘public health crisis.’"

Rep. Slaughter, who is Congress’s only trained microbiologist, told Kristoff: "We have misused one of the best scientific products we’ve had."


Main Page

setstats            Copyright (C) All rights reserved under

            If you have any comments, please send your email to