Last week, William Cohan published an opinion piece in the New York Times expressing his concerns about antibiotic use in livestock. The article headlined, “Antibiotics in Meat Could be Damaging Our Guts” (which was changed from its original headline) was full of inaccuracies and misleading rhetoric about antibiotic use in animals and the risk to humans. The Meat Institute responded with the letter below which the Times has not published, but we thought it was important to share online.

Dear Editor:

William Cohan’s “A Burger, Please:  Hold the Tetracyline” (May 25 2018) does immense disservice to veterinarians, farmers and ranchers and meat and poultry companies. Relying on claims he describes three times in his article as “difficult to document” or  possible “hyperbole,” he falsely suggests that veterinarians administer antibiotics on demand.

Meat and poultry companies must meet consumer demand for safe and nutritious products, and that involves caring for livestock in a safe, humane manner and complying with the law.  Antibiotics are to treat illnesses or to prevent or control illnesses in herds and flocks so we can use fewer antibiotics than if the disease spreads.  Withdrawal periods are followed and federal data show that with very few exceptions, antibiotic residues are not an issue.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agrees that antibiotic resistant bacteria are a significant public health issue, CDC says human overuse is the number one factor.

We recognize our responsibility to use antibiotics judiciously according to the law.  Doing otherwise risks regulatory sanctions and recalls and veterinarians risk their licenses.  Unfortunately, Mr. Cohan seems to prefer “hyperbole” because it makes a more interesting, though inaccurate, story.

Tiffany Lee, Ph.D., DVM
Director, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs
North American Meat Institute


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