New York Rep. Louise Slaughter (D) introduced legislation last week that would ban the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics for livestock. Proponents of the measure say the practice of regularly feeding low doses of antibiotics to cattle, pigs and chickens breeds strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be dangerous to humans.

The science behind those claims is fuzzy, claim livestock producers. National Pork Producer’s Council president Don Butler said, “This is irresponsible legislation. We are committed to maintaining the well-being of our animals, and we need access to a range of animal health products to keep our pigs healthy and, in turn, produce safe food products. This bill will prevent that, and we’ll see more pigs die and higher production costs, and that means consumers will pay more for pork.”

TexasA&MUniversity animal scientist Ron Gill says barring antibiotics would decrease production efficiency about 15 percent, and more animals would need to be used to produce the same amount of food. Gill says there is skepticism about the accuracy of research on antibiotics used in livestock production. Texas Rep. Mike Conway (R) agrees with those skeptics.

“Any decision regarding the use of antibiotics in animal feed lots should be based on sound science and facts,” Conway said. “There is no evidence that the antibiotics used have contributed to increased resistance in humans.”

A 2000 survey of human health experts found that 96 percent of antibiotic resistance in humans is due to human use of antibiotics. Additionally, according to the Animal Health Institute, less than 5 percent of animal antibiotics are used for nutritional efficiency — which promotes growth — and even the majority of those prevent diseases.

Click here to listen to an AgriTalk radio interview with Dr. Christine Hoang, AVMA's director of scientific activities, on the implications of legislation against antibiotics.

Proponents of the ban on antibiotics in livestock feed served up Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant co-CEO Steve Ells to the media this week. Ells says he sees a demand for meat raised without antibiotics, and Chipotle started serving meat from naturally raised animals nine years ago. Ells said their profits have risen by double digits every year until last year.

“Our success proves that people are willing to pay more for higher quality meat,” Ells said.

That should certainly settle this argument — we’ll ban the use of antibiotics due to the sound science that Chipotle’s profits are up. Of course, we can ignore the fact that most fast-food restaurants — and that’s all Chipotle is, a marketer of fast food — saw significant profit increases until last year. Or maybe we should cancel the whole idea since McDonald’s profits have been soaring recently as the economy struggles. Doesn’t that suggest that consumers are now demanding the — how shall we say — “unnatural” meat?

For years, Chipotle has waged an advertising campaign based on fear and unsound science. The first thing you see when you walk into a Chipotle restaurant is a large sign that says, “No prescription needed.” The message is that Chipotle’s meat products are not raised with those dreaded antibiotics.

The company’s longstanding campaign is designed to sell their food products not by touting taste, or service, or even atmosphere. No, Chipotle is promoting its products by trying to make consumers afraid of their competitors’ products. The subliminal message is: “Eat here. Who knows what nasty things have been injected into those meat products next door.” — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.