Meat Industry, Environmentalists Critique White House Antibiotic Efforts

A White House proposal to curb the use of antibiotics in food animals drew concerns from both sides of the issue on Tuesday.

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A White House proposal to curb the use of antibiotics in food animals drew concerns from both sides of the issue on Tuesday.

Meat producers said antibiotics used on livestock and poultry are strictly regulated and safe for humans. Environmental advocates, meanwhile, said the policy would continue to enable the drugs’ "irresponsible" use on farms.

The Obama administration convened dozens of stakeholders as part of a "White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship" this week. Antibiotics are often used to prevent disease or speed up development among food animals, but observers argue overuse could contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.

The White House effort, in part, directs federal agencies to seek "responsible antibiotic-use policies" in its cafeteria food purchases and commits the Presidential Food Service to "to serving meats and poultry that have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics."

The North American Meat Institute joined the forum, and CEO Barry Carpenter expressed hope that the initiative would "help lead to meaningful steps to best ensure both human and animal health.”

NAMI officials, however, also expressed reservations about the language regarding the Presidential Food Service. They said hormones and antibiotics are distinct substances with wildly different regulations and uses. The group also objected to the use of the word "treated."

"Not utilizing antibiotics when a veterinarian deems it appropriate could pose an animal welfare issue," the group said.

By contrast, the Natural Resources Defense Council issued a statement arguing that although the White House proposal would help build the market for "responsible" antibiotic use in the food industry, it doesn't go nearly far enough.

"The federal policy should halt all routine use of medically-important antibiotics, not just one category of routine use," said NRDC health attorney Mae Wu.

Many restaurant chains and food producers are already responding to broader concerns from consumers by cutting back on antibiotic use. Still, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that the food animal use of antibiotics considered “medically important” to humans increased by 20 percent between 2009 and 2013.

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