Decreasing Antibiotic Loading to Natural Water Systems from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: A Policy Analysis

The presence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in natural water systems and their effects on human and ecosystem health is a recent emerging water quality concern. This analysis focuses on a specific class of pharmaceuticals; antibiotics, and their usage in commercial livestock production. Antibiotics are commonly used in livestock production both for treating illness (therapeutic use) and encouraging growth (sub-therapeutic use) (Burkholder, 2007). These antibiotic compounds have the potential to threaten human and ecosystem health through long-term exposure and increased prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The goal of this analysis is to evaluate multiple policy options for reducing antibiotic loading to natural water systems in the state of Minnesota using the Eight-Fold Path for Policy Analysis developed by Dr. Eugene Bardach. These alternatives were examined for their effectiveness in lowering antibiotics in water systems, cost effectiveness, political feasibility, public acceptance, feasibility for farmers and equity. The alternatives examined are: 1) Implementing more stringent regulations limiting use of antibiotics in livestock. Both a full ban on all antibiotics and a partial ban on only medically important antibiotics are discussed, 2) subsidizing organic farming methods to incentivize sustainable practices, 3) expanding National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and State Disposal System (SDS) permitting requirements to include manure composting requirements and more stringent flood protection, 4) and the status quo. Concerns with antibiotic-resistant bacteria specifically have brought this antibiotic use to the forefront in some discussions. The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act has been introduced to the United States Congress (Govtrack, 2011), but is opposed by powerful lobbies representing the agricultural and pharmaceutical lobbies. These lobbies are concerned with increases in production cost for farmers, and decreases in profits for the pharmaceutical companies. Through analysis of these alternatives using the stated criteria, it appears that instituting a partial ban of medically important antibiotics and expanding organic subsidies is the best approach at this time. These alternatives will face political opposition and do not fully address the problem, but the partial ban will help to mitigate the most pressing concern, which is antibiotic resistant bacteria, and expanding subsidies will incentivize farmers to move toward more sustainable practices.
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University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
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Entinger, Monica
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