Risks from antibiotics in animal feed

The Bayer Corporation is the third largest manufacturer of veterinary products in the world; its annual turnover is approximately $900 million. Since new illnesses constantly arise in intensive livestock farming, the sales of vaccines, antibiotics and other veterinary medicines also continue to grow. Almost half of the European production of antibiotics land in the cattle stalls - more than 10,000 metric tons a year. The bacteria killers are simply mixed in with the feed in order to accelerate the animals' growth. The result is an increased number of antibiotic- resistant bacteria and pathogens in the animals due to the use of antibiotics - a sometimes lethal risk. Through the food chain strains of resistant bacteria such as salmonella can enter the human body and trigger untreatable infections. Diseases such as tuberculosis, which appeared to have been cured by scientists years ago, are spreading once again.

The US FDA authorized the use of the anti-infectivum Baytril on livestock two years ago despite strong public resistance. Patricia Lieberman, Ph.D., a scientist who directs the Antibiotic-Resistance Project at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), had the following comment: "Bayer has agreed to limit or stop the sale of Baytril if the FDA determines that its use in cattle leads to antibiotic resistance in bacteria that cause human disease. While that voluntary agreement is a step in the right direction, CSPI fears that it won't hold up. Bayer is a major supplier of fluoroquinolones for flock-wide use in poultry, a use that has resulted in fluoroquinolone resistance in Campylobacter bacteria. But the same company has not stopped selling the drug to poultry growers (nor has the FDA banned its sale).

That is why the FDA should not have approved Baytril -- especially when other antibiotics are just as effective in treating bovine respiratory infections. At a minimum it should have required automatic withdrawal of Baytril if harmful fluoroquinolone-resistant bacteria reach levels set by the FDA and CDC. Fluoroquinolones are important in human medicine, so it is distressing that the FDA has approved their use in cattle and poultry. Farmers also should not rely on antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention. That would preserve them for use when they were really necessary. In 1997, the World Health Organization recommended phasing out the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of livestock."

Bayer recently spent over 100 million German Marks to build new production facilities for Baytril in Germany and the US. The company claimed that Baytril is completely harmless in a letter to veterinarians: "Bayer has and always will play a leading role in defending fluoroquinolones".