ANNAPOLIS – The poultry industry Tuesday opposed a bill to accumulate data on antibiotics mixed into animal feed, saying the information would be meaningless and only scare people.
Some delegates on the Environmental Matters Committee agreed, saying state data wouldn’t help deal with antibiotic resistance because it is a national issue.
“If this is going to be done it should be done on a national basis,” said Delegate Donald Elliot, R-Carroll, at the committee’s hearing on the bill Tuesday.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene supported the bill sponsored by Delegate Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, as a step toward addressing human resistance to antibiotics.
“The issue of antibiotic resistance does not have any easy solution but before we can come up with any solution we must first know [the data],” said Amy Chapin, department spokeswoman.
Infections from bacteria such as pneumococcus and gonorrhea used to be easily treatable with penicillin. Now they often require stronger and more expensive treatments. Penicillin and amoxicillin are as much as $80 cheaper than the drugs replacing them.
Anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of antibiotics sold nationally are for routine use in animal feed to stave off illnesses, Morhaim said. However, there is no conclusive data in Maryland about the kind and quantity of antibiotics in use in agriculture.
“Without even having the first piece of information, it’s pretty difficult to make a rational decision,” Morhaim, a physician, said.
Three nurses testified to the increasing problem of human antibiotic resistance. One said she had seen cancer patients die, not because of the cancer, but because of resistance to antibiotics used to treat infections.
Maryland ranks eighth in the nation in broiler chicken production, producing 1.4 billion pounds, and chicken farming is the largest livestock industry in the state.
Chicken waste often is used as fertilizer on farms, which means the antibiotics and any accompanying resistant bacteria could be released into the groundwater supply, Morhaim said.
The conflicting numbers on how much of the nation’s antibiotic use goes into agriculture ranges from the 40 percent figure released by the National Academy of Sciences to a 70 percent figure produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 10.5 million pounds of drugs are used annually for poultry alone.
However, because of the uncertainty regarding this data, scientists are even less sure what effects these antibiotics might have on bacterial resistance.
Poultry companies are reluctant to divulge such information because they feel their formulas are trade secrets, said University of Maryland School of Medicine scientist, Glenn Morris.
“Companies don’t want other companies to know what is going into their chicken feed to make their chickens grow better,” Morris said.