Ezra Klein, the increasingly visible Washington Post policy blogger, should stick to what he thinks he knows, which is economics. When he wanders off into agriculture policy, as he did Thursday in commenting on antibiotic use in livestock, he is worse than uninformed. He’s simply wrong.
For starters Klein cites as fact the urban myth that 70 percent of the country’s antibiotics are used in livestock production. He calls it one of his “favorite scary statistics.” The livestock industry has always recognized this as a wild overestimate, and a recent study out of Kansas State University confirms that. In fact, it blows Klein’s “scary statistic” out of the water.
Next, Klein cites “mounting evidence” that farm use of antibiotics “is contributing to the startling rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria” in humans. In fact, numerous peer-reviewed risk assessments, including at least one by the Food and Drug Administration, show “negligible” risk to human health from antibiotic use in livestock. Totally missing from Klein’s missive is any recognition that antibiotic resistance develops from many factors and that a major contributor is over-prescription of antibiotics in humans.
Finally, Klein repeats the canard that vast amounts of antibiotics are needed to keep livestock healthy because they are raised in unhealthy conditions. In fact, modern livestock confinement systems are designed to keep animals healthy. Animals are kept in scientifically designed, biosecure barns to protect them from predators, disease, and bad weather.
Most livestock antibiotics are used when animals are sick or susceptible to illness. That’s as it should be. Healthy animals produce safe food, and we need every available tool to avoid putting the food supply at risk.
Perhaps even Klein could agree with that last point.