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AGRICULTURE REPORT — Antimicrobial Drugs in Agriculture - 2003-08-19

Broadcast: August 19, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

A study has found no serious effects after farmers in Denmark ended the use of antibiotics to increase growth in pigs and chickens. Many experts worry that too much use in food animals may add to the problem of antimicrobial resistance in humans. Bacteria develop resistance to drugs over time.

The World Health Organization last week released a report by experts who studied the Danish example. In nineteen-ninety-nine, Denmark limited the use of drugs in food animals only to the treatment of infections. Farmers had given antibiotics to increase growth mainly in pigs and chickens.

Since then, the W-H-O report says the experts found a big drop in the levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in these animals. The experts also found little, if any, increase in production costs. But the report says more studies are needed to learn how much of an effect all this will have on drug resistance in people. The report notes that cases of antimicrobial resistance in humans have been rare in Denmark.

Makers of drugs used in animals say a bigger concern should be the overuse of antibiotics by doctors to treat infections in people.

Antibiotics can be an effective way to treat dangerous kinds of bacteria like E. coli and salmonella in animals. But farmers may also feed small amounts to healthy cattle, chickens and pigs. These amounts are smaller than farmers would use to treat diseases.

Low doses of the drugs cause farm animals to gain weight faster. Cattle and pigs develop fat more quickly. Farmers save money. They use less food and produce more meat. They may also lose fewer animals to disease.

In two-thousand-one, the United States Agriculture Department released a report on the use of drugs for the purpose of growth. The Economic Research Service said ending this use would increase production costs for farmers. And that would mean higher prices for meat.

But many scientists say they are concerned that drug-resistant bacteria may spread to humans and infect large numbers of people. In nineteen-ninety-nine the European Union banned the use of four kinds of drugs for growth purposes.

This past June, McDonald’s also reacted to the concerns. The fast-food seller announced it would ask its meat suppliers to cut back their use of antibiotics except to treat disease.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.