Addicted to Antibiotics: How Factory Farm Drug Abuse Makes Vets Rich

Part 1 – Published on Spiegel Online International, by Nils Klawitter, April 18, 2012.

It’s no secret that factory farms use unconscionable amounts of antibiotics when fattening up animals for market. In Germany, however, veterinarians play a crucial role in the abuse. Many are getting rich in the process, but the risks to both human and animals are many … //

… Bigger Profits than Cocaine Dealers:  

“Some veterinarians’ profit margins are bigger than those of cocaine dealers,” says Nicki Schirm, who has been a veterinarian in the state of Hesse for more than 25 years. When a veterinarian finds a sick chick among 20,000 other chicks, he treats the discovery as justification to preventively treat the entire flock with antibiotics, says Rupert Ebner, a veterinarian from the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt. “Nowadays, flock or herd health monitoring is the code name for the generous administration of drugs,” says Ebner. In many cases, he adds, fake diagnoses are used to provide a justification for the use of antibiotics.

In large veterinary practices, profits from the sale of drugs can account for up to 80 percent of revenues. This is mainly due to the volume discounts offered by the pharmaceutical industry and the sweet privilege known as the right to dispense — a special provision for the pharmaceutical monopoly. For more than 150 years, veterinarians have been allowed to both prescribe and sell medications — with almost no supervision whatsoever.

But this could change. Veterinarians have come into the political firing line after testing of animal populations in the western states of Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia revealed the large-scale presence of antibiotics. In North Rhine-Westphalia, Green Party Environment Minister Johannes Remmel ordered the testing of 182 flocks on commercial chicken farms. More than 90 percent of the animals had been treated with antibiotics, many multiple times, so that they were essentially being fed a constant diet of drugs. Others were given the medications for only one or two days, which isn’t long enough and is in violation of the conditions for licensing the drugs. Such results raise suspicions that the drugs were being used to guarantee the success of the poultry fattening operation rather than to fight disease.

Both farmers and veterinarians are now under suspicion, prompting Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner to push for a tightening of Germany’s Pharmaceutical Products Act and a “careful review” of veterinarians’ right to dispense drugs.

The veterinarians’ lobby has countered the effort with a petition to preserve the privilege. They speak of their professional honor and independence. But how independent are veterinarians who, for example, are members of the management of giant poultry marketers in Lower Saxony while at the same time monitoring poultry flocks?

Easy Access: … //

… Developing Immunity:

What has the scientists particularly concerned is that more and more pathogens, especially in poultry meat, are immune to several antibiotics, including fluoroquinolones, which, as so-called reserve antibiotics, are supposed to be used sparingly. But pharmaceutical companies have been anything but sparing in recent years when it comes to the use of antibiotics. In 2010, drug maker Bayer earned €166 million, an 11 percent increase over the previous year, with sales of the animal antibiotic Baytril, which is often used with turkeys when all else fails. Annual sales of veterinary drugs in Germany have climbed to €730 million.

Some 900 tons of antibiotics were fed to animals in Germany in 2010. This is 116 tons more than in 2005, and more than three times as much as the entire German population takes annually. Pharmaceutical producers were required to report their 2011 sales of veterinary drugs by the end of March. A number of companies did not comply, prompting the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety to request the information in writing.

As factory farming has grown, so have veterinary practices, sometimes to enormous proportions. Some of these “animal clinics” now have staffs of 20 to 30 people. In some cases, their in-house pharmacies have grown large enough to fill large storage rooms, says a senior veterinarian with a state regulatory agency. (full text).

Part 2: Heavy Reliance on Drugs.

Links:

Intolerable Stench: Confronting the Threat of Industrial Pig Farms;

Pigs and Protection Money: German Farmers Seek their Fortunes in Russia;

Urban Agriculture: Industrial-Sized Rooftop Farm Planned for Berlin;

Medicine: Resistant Bacteria, Antibiotics Prove Powerless as Super-Germs Spread.

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