Vilsack Waffles on Antibiotic Use

Earlier this week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made a statement that seemed to endorse a change in USDA policy governing the use of antibiotics in livestock. The statement generated a great deal of controversy and was seized on by public health advocates as evidence of a new federal policy regarding antibiotics.

Referring to antibiotic use, Vilsack stated, “Working with the farm community, I think it’s clear we would like to see those antibiotics used in the context of disease control and disease response as opposed to any other reason or purpose for using them. And we’re working with state veterinarians associations and land-grant universities to ensure that there’s a better understanding of the importance of using antibiotics judiciously.”

Public health advocates latched onto Vilsack’s emphasis on disease control. These groups, as well as many Congressional Democrats, have argued that the use of antibiotics in healthy animal herds is a major public health risk, leading to the creation of drug resistant superbugs.

A recent study of supermarket meat seems to confirm these fears, indicating that about 25 percent of meat samples tested positive for drug resistant staph.

Some farmers, however, argue that judicious use of antibiotics is necessary to keep livestock healthy.

More recently, Vilsack seems to be walking back from his previous statement. USDA spokespeople have stated that, “Secretary Vilsack’s comments do not reflect a change in policy for the Department.”

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer