The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) – HR1549 – would stop veterinarians and producers from preventing disease in livestock, which would ultimately harm animal welfare, animal health, food safety and food security. A companion bill was introduced into the Senate (S. 619). The bills call for short-turnaround assessments of antibiotics used for nontherapeutic purposes, defined as “any use of the drug as a feed or water additive for an animal in the absence of any clinical sign of disease in the animal for growth promotion, feed efficiency, weight gain, routine disease prevention, or other routine purpose.”

A piece on the Nationals Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) website called “Vote NO on PAMTA” outlines some of the problems with this bill, and addresses myths and facts about antimicrobial resistance. These include:

• PAMTA (HR 1549) claims to address antibiotics resistance, but ignores the complexity of the issue.

• PAMTA would stop veterinarians and producers from preventing disease in livestock, which would ultimately harm animal welfare, animal health, food safety, and food security.

• Prevention of disease is a cornerstone in both human and animal medicine. Taking away this tool undermines preventive medicine, and could ultimately lead to increased antibiotic use.

And the issue of antibiotic use in livestock is definitely complex. Guy Loneragan, BVSc, PhD, West Texas A&M University, says that in terms of microbial ecology, we are really only beginning to scratch the surface at the ecological level about the emergence, dissemination, and maintenance of antibiotic resistance in complex microbial populations.

“It is tempting to ignore this complexity to provide a succinct answer to the problem of resistance, but when we do, we over simplify the issue and cast all antibiotic use with broad brush strokes as being either bad or good,” Loneragan explains. “However, the truth likely is that any use, injectable or in-feed, includes both risks and benefits to public health, animal well-being, and society. We need to quantify and balance the benefits and risk for each bug-drug-use. If we do, and the risk outweighs the benefits, then that use should be stopped but if the benefits outweigh the risk, then data dictates that use should continue.”

Oversimplification such as a total ban has its consequences. “For instance, we have observed increased treatment rates when in-feed antimicrobials have been removed,” Loneragan says. “While total antibiotic use has gone down, use of antibiotics deemed critically important to human medicine has gone up. One might argue that blanket bans have been successful because total pounds of antibiotics have gone down, but when you drill into those data, it is less clear that it has been successful.”

This information is critical to get in front of members of Congress who may be only hearing one side of the story. “While we are working to stop bills such as PAMTA because they cause harm and do not address antimicrobial resistance or solve any problems, we also work to educate members of Congress, their staff and FDA on our industry and how we judiciously and responsibly use antibiotics as only one tool of many to raise healthy cattle,” explains NCBA Chief Veterinarian Elizabeth Parker, DVM. “Hopefully as bills or pieces of legislation come up, members and their staff already have the real information and can make informed decisions.”

Loneragan has recently been in Washington visiting with politicians about antibiotic use in livestock production. He believes that there is a real interest in this issue and the dawning of understanding of the need to evaluate the pros and cons of any use (or restriction of use). “The sense I get is that people are sincere and are beginning to understand that wholesale, blanket bans without weighing benefits against risks will result in the very real potential for unintended consequences,” he notes. “The folks in D.C., regardless of the side of the issue they currently sit, are sincere in what they are trying to do. Most importantly, they are open to information and willing to talk through the issue. Unless we all accept there are both risks and benefits with any use, we won’t get far in any discussion and I have the feeling that most in D.C. are starting to see this.”

Veterinarians and producers need to contact their members of Congress both at home when they are in the district as well as in their DC offices, NCBA’s Parker recommends. “A short note, phone call, fax or e-mail is all it takes to let their elected officials know what they think on this bill or any other legislation that affects their lives.”

The cattle industry is not alone. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) also urges producers to get active on this issue. In an Action Alert from NPPC, producers are directed to send form letters about the subject to their senators and representatives. The Alert suggests reminding lawmakers that what this legislation will do is harm pork producers and rural economies. Pork production costs will increase, food prices will increase, and there will be fewer pigs, meaning fewer jobs in rural areas should these bills pass.

Source: Geni Wren, Editor, Bovine Veterinarian Magazine