October 20, 2021

User Fee Approach Proposed for Factory Farm Antibiotic Use

Two scientists writing in the New England Journal of Medicine have proposed a way to control antibiotic use in farm animals in the United States. Dr. Aidan Hollis and Ziana Ahmed from the Department of Economics at the University of Calgary propose a user fee system instead of an outright ban on all antibiotic use for growth promotion and disease prevention.

Cows in FieldThe authors state that since a ban would be difficult to implement, since many farms are geographically remote and it is not easy to determine whether antibiotics are being used for growth promotion of prophylaxis in stressful conditions or for treating actual disease. They say that the goal should be to deter so called “low value” applications, when the cost of antibiotics is more than the value it provides.

The user fee, based on the volume of antibiotics used, would be easy to administer and monitor, would put a curb on low value uses of antibiotics, and would generate revenues to give incentives for companies to develop new antibiotics. Finally, this type of control is replicable through the industry world-wide.

Since antibiotics used for human health are so critical, the authors also propose an international treaty to impose user fees world wide. This would level the playing field and reduce antibiotic use all over the globe. The authors estimate that “a 1% reduction in the usefulness of existing antibiotics could impose costs of $600 billion to $3 trillion in lost human health. It is vital to protect this essential resource.”

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