CBS Evening News Anchor Katie Couric reports.
Dave Kronlage of Dyersville, Iowa told us he feeds antibiotics to his hogs before they get sick in order to accelerate growth and fend off diseases that can spread when livestock are raised in crowded conditions.
"You give it to them because you want them to be healthy," Kronlage said.
But this week on Capitol Hill critics worried giving antibiotics to livestock, unless medically necessary, may be creating dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria that can be passed on to humans.
"We would be shocked if a pediatrician ever ordered antibiotics for an entire nursery school class to keep the children from being infected," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.
The FDA, the CDC, and the Department of Agriculture are now urging farmers to stop feeding antibiotics to healthy animals. The industry is fighting back.
"Our position is that these products have been proven as safe and effective by the FDA," said Dr. Richard A. Carnevale, of the Animal Health Institute.
Dr. Stuart Levy first documented this problem more than 30 years ago after feeding 150 healthy chickens low levels of tetracycline for months.
"By one week, almost all e. Coli bacteria in the intestinal tracts of chickens were tetracycline-resistant," Levy testified.
By three months, Levy testified, the chickens were resistant to other classes of antibiotics as well. So were farm workers and members of the community.
Russell Kremer, a free-range hog farmer, told us he nearly died from a drug-resistant strain of strep after being gored by an angry boar that had been fed a daily diet of penicillin.
The industry insists they are using antibiotics appropriately. But in a CBS News four-month investigation drug distributors and dozens of farm workers in four farm belt states (Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma), told us antibiotic use to promote growth remains widespread on farms.
In a recent government survey over 70 percent of farm workers admitted they used antibiotics in baby pigs for this purpose, most without consulting a veterinarian.
The FDA recently put out draft guidelines urging farmers to stop these practices.
And if they don't follow the guidelines?
Well, a bill pending in Congress could force the issue by banning the use of growth-promoting antibiotics in healthy livestock particularly those that are critically important to humans.