Lessons from the Danish Ban on Feed-Grade Antibiotics

Dermot J. Hayes, Helen H. Jensen
June 2003  [03-BP 41]

McDonald's Corporation, one of the largest buyers of meat in the U.S. fast-food industry, recently adopted a policy that prohibits its direct suppliers from using medically important antibiotics as growth promotants in food animals after 2004. Although the implications of such a voluntary ban in the United States remain to be seen, recent experiences in Denmark provide some comparable evidence on the effects for hog production. An economic analysis, compiled from information gleaned from interviews with Danish veterinarians, farmers, economists, and industry analysts, estimates the economic costs of an antibiotics ban on pork producers in the United States. Denmark first imposed a ban in pork production at the finishing stage, which was considered a success, with producers encountering few additional costs. When the country further implemented a ban at the weaning stage, producers encountered severe health problems and incurred large costs. In addition, a complete ban actually increased the total antibiotics used, as Danish veterinarians were forced to prescribe additional therapeutic agents—and prescribed those used most often in human medicine. The economic analysis of U.S. hog production indicates that a U.S. ban would increase costs by approximately $4.50 per animal in the first year. The total cost of a ban to the U.S. pork industry spread across a ten-year period could be in excess of $700 million.

Keywords: antibiotics, economic costs of regulation, food safety, pork production.

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