A USDA official told a Congressional panel there is likely a link between agricultural antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance in humans.
"USDA believes that it is likely that the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of antibacterial resistance among humans and in the animals themselves, and it is important that these medically important antibiotics be used judiciously," Dr. John Clifford, APHIS's deputy administrator for veterinary services, told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Health during a hearing last month.
Clifford also discussed the future of USDA's role, saying that USDA wants to expand current partnerships with other federal agencies—and develop new ones.
"We need to work together to conduct research and develop new therapies that protect and preserve animal health, without increasing the risk of resistance to medically important antibiotics," Clifford said in prepared testimony.
To date, there is no conclusive scientific evidence indicating that the judicious use of antibiotics in cattle contributes to antimicrobial resistance in humans.
In fact, the non-scientific removal of antibiotics in Europe actually led to increased animal disease and increased use of therapeutic antibiotics with no demonstrable improvement in human antibiotic resistance patterns.
Denmark banned sub therapeutic use of antibiotics in food animal production in 1998. In a column he wrote for Feedstuffs, Trent Loos, a rancher and farm advocate, described "an enlightening discussion" he had with two Danish veterinarians who told him that since 2002, the rate of Danish people who were found to harbor bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics has increased six-fold. They also indicated that antibiotic treatment in the human population has increased from 350 mg to 1,400 mg in order to overcome bacterial infections.
At the Congressional Panel, University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Epidemiology Dr. Randall Singer pointed out that it's better to prevent disease from happening in the first place, rather than having to treat animals after they get sick.
Several Republican members of the Committee reiterated this line of reasoning, pointing out the contradiction between efforts to ban antibiotics in livestock with the recently-passed health care bill, which focuses on the prevention of sickness before it starts.