Hurd responds to anti-antibiotic editorial

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newspaper Editor’s note: Scott Hurd, DVM, PhD, Iowa State University, shares this letter-to-the-editor he wrote to the Des Moines Register in response to its editorial on food-animal use of antibiotics. Read more from Hurd at

As a veterinarian and an Iowa State professor who is concerned about antibiotic resistance for over 30 years, and a former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of USDA’s Office of Food Safety, I want to include some relevant facts in response to the Des Moines Register’s editorial published on March 3rd.

We are all concerned about the adaptability of bacteria and their ability to develop resistance. You see, antibiotic resistance has been documented to have existed for at least four million years. So clearly, resistance has not developed due to modern animal agriculture.

In Denmark, where they have banned the use of all antimicrobials, except those for  treatment, the amount of medicine used to treat sick piglets doubled and public health has not improved. Additionally, there are now 75 percent fewer pig farmers. There are more pigs in Denmark today because the remaining farms simply got bigger.

Last week, I met with Senator Harkin’s staff and other congressional staff in Washington, D.C., to talk about the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA). It’s important to understand this act’s main objective is not related to the topic we are discussing, but rather it’s related to the funding of U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Some argue this bill should have attachments for more data reporting, but antimicrobial sales are already being reported by the FDA. It will not be helpful, only costly, if we collect more data on antibiotic use, but don’t collect data related to public health, our main concern.

It’s important for human and animal medicine to work together to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for all uses. In the end, it’s about farmers and veterinarians being able to use medicines when necessary to protect the health and welfare of their animals, which helps ensure food safety and human health.

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David Brewbaker DVM    
March, 11, 2013 at 08:37 AM

I am in full agreement with Dr. Herd. The so called"expert idiots" have never raised a single animal for the food chain. The use of small amounts of antibiotics to prevent disease is 10 X better than producing and treating a disease. The Dutch now use 2 X the amount of antibiotics because the pigs are sicker and must be treated. The "expert idiots" will always be with us for political and monetary gain.

St. Paul  |  March, 11, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Thanks for trying to clarify this. Not having read the editorial my comment is not fully informed with the information (or mis information) you're responding to. Prophylactic antibiotics are necessary in high density operations. Is this correct? Can low density growing operations successfully function without antibiotics? Is it true that "good bacteria" makes the pig's digestive tract more robust and capable of handling both good and bad bacteria effectively? On a related note, I've heard that surface bacteria on dry aging whole muscle beef actually helps protect the system from the invasion of pathogenic bacteria which cannot compete with "good bacteria". Is this true? The somewhat sterile (maybe not the correct use of the term) environments that we create in both growing and processing facilities do no credit to the concept of healthy bacteria. I do not picture a gymnasium for bacteria to morph into more resistant strains, but aren't we denying the good bacteria a fighting chance to prevail? The live culture health wave that's being marketed to Americans has some validity. The idea of gut health has a place in animal husbandry. Maybe not. Please clarify.

NC  |  March, 11, 2013 at 01:04 PM

Karl would like everyone to imagine "low density growing operations" are magically free of disease...and, of course, modern commercial scale operations are so disease-riddled as to be wholly reliant upon antibiotics. Karl, maybe your pen name should be PollyAnna. Please do get around to doing that reading, Polly. You might learn something but somehow I suspect your mind is made up.

March, 11, 2013 at 02:41 PM

My shop sells $3 million dollars worth of antibiotic free meat per year. Sales have tripled over four years. It's what I eat. It's what keeps the farms going that supply us. The only reason the CAFO's aren't disease ridden is they require antibiotics. I was asking questions. Is this not true? I was hoping the "reading" i'd be doing would come in the form of educated responses. I know of a different way. I'm not saying it's the only way, or that it will feed the world. I'm curious about a veterinary perspective on the topic of good bacteria. Are you worried about losing market share to a bunch of polly annals? I'm hardly a threat, but I do take exception to name calling.

kansas  |  March, 11, 2013 at 03:16 PM

@ un-named w/no location (for a reason?), 2:41 PM - Your success is due largely to the fear & panic-mongers who have promoted falsehoods in the market regarding the safety of modern livestock production. The premium prices you and your suppliers require are largely due to the inefficiency of your production, distribution and sales methods. Inefficiencies that include higher mortality rates. They do not reward your customers with anything other than a false sense of security and an even more false sense of moral superiority. The answer to your question (as though you were honestly asking, rather than making a statement) is NO. CAFOs are no more "disease ridden" than any other livestock production site of any size. Your business model depends on promoting a romantic mythology combined with instilling fear and loathing for your competitors products. That, along with your misty reference to "another way", is dishonesty I take exception to. While blantant rudeness can be over-done, your insinuations and denigrations of others are equally insulting.

NY  |  March, 11, 2013 at 03:59 PM

$3 million dollars of artsy fartsy yuppie meat -- whew -- that must be a whopping, oh, 500 head at $60/lb retail to the evil 1%er's who have more money than brains. Good for you. You are right about one thing -- you will never feed the world that way, what with 7 billion going on 9 billion souls worldwide. But bully for you all the same if you can keep up the ruse.

March, 11, 2013 at 09:04 PM

Take a swim in yer manure lagoons.

March, 11, 2013 at 09:07 PM

I heart manure lagoons.