A recent study by Consumer Reports' public policy group Consumer Union says that "80% of antibiotics sold in the United States are not used on people, but on factory farm animals," a statement that a coalition of 17 livestock groups says isn't true.
In effort to clarify claims made by the Consumer Union, the coalition of livestock groups sent a letter to Senate Committee on Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Senate Committee on Appropriations Chair Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) inviting the two senators and committee ranking members to discuss consumer education and antibiotic use in agriculture.
Authors of the letter say the "Meat Without Drugs" campaign, which was released last month, is "misleading and meant to inflame."
"Our U.S. meat and poultry supply is 'without drugs,'" the letter said. "Livestock and poultry are sometimes treated with antibiotics to prevent, control and treat diseases, but strict withdrawal periods must be followed to ensure that no residues are contained in the products we consume, and federal data shows that the system works. Blanket actions to restrict antibiotic use would actually make our food system less safe, limit our ability to prevent, control and treat disease, and hurt countless animals."
The "Meat Without Drugs" campaign urges consumers to demand meat and poultry raised without antibiotics by signing a petition to ask the grocer Trader Joe's to source only antibiotic-free meat. It also says that antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" are making consumers vulnerable to common infections as a result of agricultural antibiotic use.
The report calls on consumers to force a phase out of meat from animals raised using antibiotics.
But, livestock groups said that this "one size fits all" approach is misguided, and that organic, natural, conventional and biotechnology methods actually work in tandem with each other, and are sometimes interdependent.
"Without this interdependence, a producer's only option would be to let the animal suffer—which is clearly not appropriate—or to euthanize and dispose of the animal," they wrote. "Conversely, when systems are working in tandem, the sick animal can be treated."
The letter authors said that the issue of antibiotic resistance is scientifically complex, and can't be addressed with simple solutions.
"We have been encouraged by the significant changes taking place in the regulation of antibiotics," the groups wrote. "Our members strongly believe in and understand the importance of strict adherence to prescribed withdrawal periods to prevent antibiotic residues in meat and poultry."
Organizations signing the letter included: American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Feed Industry Association , American Meat Institute , American Veterinary Medical Association , Animal Agriculture Alliance , Animal Health Institute , National Cattlemen's Beef Association , National Chicken Council , National Grain and Feed Association , National Milk Producers Federation , National Pork Producers Council , National Turkey Federation , North American Meat Association , and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.