Consumer Reports: Antibiotics and Cows

There is growing concern about a powerful antibiotic the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve for use in treating sick cattle. More than a dozen groups, including Consumers Union, oppose the move, saying the drug's use poses a serious health risk for humans.

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. Consumers Union says overuse of Cefquinome could produce "super bugs," which are resistant to antibiotics.

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 the two bacteria on 83 percent of the chickens tested. Consumer Reports tests also showed the bacteria were often resistant to one or more antibiotics.

Even within the FDA, there's 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. In fact, no antibiotic from this class of drug has ever been approved for use in animals.

The FDA says, "If there is credible scientific evidence that the use of an antibiotic in livestock poses a health threat to people, the FDA will take every possible measure to protect human health." Groups opposed to the use of Cefquinome in cattle vow to continue their fight.

Consumer Reports says the FDA appears to be ignoring lessons learned from the mid-'90s. That's when the agency approved for use in chicken feed a powerful new class of antibiotics that fights bacteria that can cause a diarrheal disease in people. It wasn't long before 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 Eventually the FDA reversed itself and the drugs were withdrawn for use in chickens.

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