Tell the USDA: Be Honest About What's In Our Meat!

  • by:
  • recipient: Tom Vilsack, Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Recently, a technical article appeared on the USDA's website summarizing the connection between antibiotics in industrial-scale meat production and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in humans.

The USDA report expressed concern that we may be entering "the 'post antibiotic era' where no effective antibiotics for treating several life-threatening infections would be available." However, after receiving some press, this report was abruptly pulled, and the original researcher refused to speak to the media.

If the USDA's claims that the article was not peer-reviewed are true, it only shows the importance of excellent scientific work in the name of public health. Call on the USDA to encourage more research of the effects of agricultural antibiotics on humans, and ask them to promote transparency in the publication of that research.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's mission is to "provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, and related issues," presumably in a transparent manner free of the cloying influences of industry. Recently, recent events seem to suggest otherwise.

In June, a technical article appeared on the USDA's website. The article summarized recent academic findings on the connection between antibiotic use in industrial-scale meat production and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in humans. After being picked up by the media, however, a disclaimer from the USDA was added to the top of the document, and the entire article was abruptly pulled from the website with no forthcoming explanation.

This isn't the first time this issue has been raised. Josh Sharfstein, former deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), gave a presentation before the House of Representatives, charging that antibiotics should be restricted to human medicine and banned from being used for growth promotion on animal farms. The European Union, following the example of Sweden, enacted such a law in 2006. However, Sharfstein recently resigned from his post, and no forthcoming legislation has addressed the concerns he raised.

Our government is based on principles of transparency and justice, and it is completely unacceptable that that an agency like the USDA remain silent in the face of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that suggests that livestock industry practices may be causing harm.

We are calling for the USDA to be more transparent and responsive in regards to scientifically-validated health concerns related to the food, agricultural, and natural resources it oversees.
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