CSPI Newsroom
Return to the Center for Science in the Public Interest

For Immediate
September 21, 1999

For more information:

  Letter from Michael Jacobson, Executive Director of CSPI, to US Trade Representative

The Honorable Charlene Barshefsky
U.S. Trade Representative
Winder Building
600 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20508

Dear Ms. Barshefsky:

   We are gravely concerned about the letter that Mr. Peter Scher of your office sent to Mr. Guy Legras, Director General, Directorate General VI, of the European Commission alleging that the European Union banned the subtherapeutic use in livestock of human-use antibiotics without an adequate scientific basis. That letter ignores statements by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and recent findings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the General Accounting Office (GAO), and the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as many private health organizations.

   The CDC determined that the decision by the EU to ban human-use antibiotics from livestock feed was “scientifically justifiable” and “protects the public health.” The CDC position statement cites a 1997 World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation that antibiotics used to treat humans should not also be used to promote animal growth.

   In addition, a 1998 NAS report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration concluded that “there is a link between the use of antibiotics in food animals, the development of bacterial resistance to these drugs, and human disease,” although “[i]nformation gaps hinder the decision-making and policy process for regulatory approval and antibiotic use in food animals.” A 1999 GAO study states that resistant strains of three specific organisms that cause illness in humans — Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli — are linked to the use of antibiotics in animals.

   In light of these findings by agencies of the U.S. government and recognized international bodies, it is highly inappropriate for your office to take the position that the EU action is scientifically unjustified and thus may not be consistent with the EU’s obligations in the World Trade Organization under the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (the SPS Agreement). It is clear that the NAS, the CDC, and other agencies have studied the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics and concluded that it poses a risk to human health, though the data are insufficient to quantify that risk with any precision. Instead of opposing the EU ban, the Administration should do what the WHO recommends.

   As the President stated last year in his address to the World Trade Organization, we must ensure “that spirited economic competition among nations never becomes a race to the bottom in environmental protections, consumer protections and labor standards. We should level up, not level down.” In this instance, it is the U.S. that should bring its regulatory requirements into line with those of the EU.1

   Unfortunately, your office appears willing to utilize the World Trade Organization SPS Agreement in a manner that attempts to protect sales by U.S. agricultural exporters and drug companies at the expense of lowering public health protection. Such actions undermine consumer confidence in the world trading system and reduce support for new free-trade initiatives.

   We would be pleased to provide you with any further information that may be helpful in reviewing your position on this matter.


Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Executive Director


 1. CSPI, together with 40 organizations (including the American Public Health Association), petitioned the FDA in March 1999 to ban the subtherapeutic use in livestock of antibiotics used in human medicine. The actions requested in the petition were also supported by a resolution of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue.