5 On Your Side

Antibiotic in Livestock May Pose Risk to Humans

Posted April 30, 2007 3:42 p.m. EDT

Consumer Reports

There is growing concern among researchers about a powerful antibiotic the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve for treating sick cows. Some experts warn using the drug could pose a serious health risk for humans.

"What you put into your cattle makes a difference in what you take in as a human being," said Joyce Williams, a cattle farmer.

Joyce Williams, who is also a nurse, is one of many in the medical community, including the American Medical Association, concerned about the use of a strong antibiotic called Cefquinome.

"Cefquinome is a very powerful antibiotic that's best used as a last line of defense for serious illnesses in humans, particularly respiratory disease in children," said Michael Hansen, of Consumers Union.

The maker of Cefquinome wants the FDA to allow it to be used to treat sick cows. Hansen said overuse of the drug could produce "super bugs."

"This is very critical because there are a number of bacteria out there that literally are resistant to all antibiotics, save one or two," he said.

The danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria getting into the food supply is very real. When Consumer Reports tested chickens last year for campylobacter and salmonella, the leading bacteria that causes food poisoning, testers found both bacteria on 83 percent of the chickens tested. Those tests also showed the bacteria were often resistant to one or more antibiotics.

Even within the FDA, there is controversy about the use of Cefquinome for sick cows.

"Last fall, the FDA's own scientific advisory panel recommended against approval for Cefquinome in cattle.," Hansen said. "This would be the first time that this class of powerful antibiotics has been approved for food-producing animals in the United States."

The FDA said if "credible scientific evidence" shows using an antibiotic in livestock "poses a health threat to people," the agency will take "every possible measure to protect human health." In the meantime, groups opposed to the use of Cefquinome in cattle vow to continue their fight!

Consumer Reports said the FDA appears to be ignoring lessons learned from the mid-90's when the agency approved a powerful new class of antibiotics for use in chicken feed. The drugs fight bacteria that can cause a diarrheal disease in people.

Soon after, doctors reported seeing antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in people hospitalized with severe diarrhea. Eventually, the FDA reversed itself and the drugs were withdrawn for use in chickens.