Former FDA Veterinarian and HSVMA Member Calls for an End to Antibiotic Overuse in Animal Agriculture

August 8, 2012

Dr. Blackwell addresses antibiotic overuse at Capitol Hill
Dr. Michael Blackwell speaks at a briefing on Capitol Hill encouraging congress members to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).
James Berglie for The HSUS

Michael Blackwell, DVM, MPH, a former deputy director for the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, recently led a Capitol Hill briefing on the issue of animal welfare and antibiotic use in animal agriculture.

Dr. Blackwell stated his support for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, legislation that would phase out the routine nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals to promote growth and prevent diseases associated with poor animal husbandry systems. The measure would help maintain the effectiveness of these drugs for treating sick people and animals.

HSVMA, of which Blackwell is a member, supports the legislation and has an ongoing petition to collect endorsements from veterinary professionals in support of PAMTA.

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"It is critical to American public health that we preserve the ability to use antibiotics," said Blackwell, noting that 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for animal agriculture. "There are those who would have you believe that that 80 percent is irrelevant and has nothing to do with 178 people dying every day due to resistant infections. But we’re not stupid."

Joining Blackwell at the Capitol Hill briefing for legislators and their staff were poultry farmer Frank Reese and Tennessee Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon. Reese raises heritage poultry on pasture in Kansas as part of the Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch cooperative, and does not administer subtherapeutic antibiotics. Witherspoon raises grass-fed cattle at the Shire Gate Farm, an Animal Welfare Approved-certified farm that uses sustainable techniques to almost completely eliminate the need for antibiotics.

Dr. Blackwell addresses antibiotic overuse at Capitol Hill
Dr. Blackwell, Tennessee Titan Will Witherspoon and Frank Reese of Good Shepherd Poultry Farms all voiced support for preserving antibiotic integrity at the briefing.
James Berglie for The HSUS

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., the lead House sponsor of PAMTA and the only microbiologist in Congress, welcomed the panelists and urged prompt action, noting "we don’t have a lot of time, and our lives depend on it."

Blackwell serves on the board of directors of The Humane Society of the United States, as an administrator of the Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville, Tenn., and as president and CEO of Blackwell Consulting, LLC. In addition to his service at the FDA, his distinguished background includes previously held positions as: a veterinarian in private practice; dean of the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine; vice chair of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production; and chief of staff of the Office of the Surgeon General of the United States.


  • High Volume of Antibiotic Use in Animal Agriculture
    An estimated 80 percent of all antimicrobials sold in the United States today are being used in animal agriculture, primarily to counteract the consequences of confining farm animals in overcrowded, stressful and unsanitary conditions, and to speed their growth. The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported last year that about 28.9 million pounds of antibiotics were given to livestock while humans consumed only 7.3 million pounds (a VIN News Service article provides more detail on this information).
  • Looming health challenge posed by non-therapeutic use on factory farms
    The volume of scientific research demonstrating that profligate use of these drugs threatens to ruin the effectiveness of antibiotics for treating sick animals and people continues to grow. A detailed review of the scientific literature on this issue is available from the Pew Health Group.
  • The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act
    Introduced as H.R. 965 in the House by Rep. Slaughter, and as S. 1211 in the Senate by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, the PAMTA legislation is pending in the 112th U.S. Congress.