HEALTH

Does giving antibiotics to animals hurt humans?

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But instead, the data has been used to argue both sides of the issue. U.S. farmers have seized on reports that cases of diarrhea among young pigs increased in the first year after the EU ban, suggesting that animal health had declined.

But public health advocates say that the outbreaks among pigs decreased once farmers improved the sanitary conditions by cleaning feedlots more frequently and giving animals more space.

U.S. groups like the National Chicken Council warn that restricting use of antibiotics will result in sicker animals, increasing costs for farmers - and the price of meat and poultry for consumers.

Some industry groups have projected costs for farmers would rise by $1 billion over 10 years, though those estimates have not been backed by outside groups.

Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian of the National Pork Producers Council, said the modern farming system is designed to keep animals healthy and produce large quantities of meat.

"The bottom line is that if these products go away, it may result in sicker pigs, more expensive food, and we don't think it will improve public health," Wagstrom said.

Meat prices in Europe have not risen dramatically since the EU's ban. Danish authorities estimate the total costs for pig farmers increased by just 1 percent, or about $1.35 for every pig slaughtered - far below food industry estimates.

U.S. health experts suggest the increase here would be modest, too. The Institute of Medicine, a non-partisan nonpartisan group of medical experts who advise the federal government on public health issues, estimates the average U.S. consumer would spend between $5 and $10 more per year on meat if antibiotics were restricted.

The result

Farmers continue to argue that antibiotics are necessary to have a steady supply of low-cost, disease-free meat for Americans, who eat about three-quarters of a pound per day - roughly twice the global average.

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