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Not Playing Chicken

AVMA president responds in the debate on the use of extra-label antibiotics in poultry.

Your article titled "Playing Chicken With Antibiotic Resistance" (September/October 2009) implies that the American Veterinary Medical Association was nothing more than a puppet when it came to responding to a federal order related to the use of antibiotics in food animals with the poultry industry holding the strings.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The AVMA's response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's final order of the prohibition of extra-label cephalosporin use was our initiative, led by us alone. And that fact is made clear in the opening line, which states that we were submitting the response, "on behalf of the American Veterinarian Association."

While we shared our scientific resources with agricultural industries that were concerned about what the FDA order would mean to them, these groups did not research the response, they did not write the response, and they did not sign the response.


Let me provide some background information that might be helpful in better understanding the AVMA's response to the FDA order. We were made aware of the final order on July 2, 2008, one day before it was issued. Since we had no prior knowledge that the FDA was going to issue the order, the first thing we did was to file for an extension of the FDA's 60-day comment period. We felt we needed more time to review the materials they had presented in the final order so that we could present a well-researched, science-based and thoughtful response. During this time, we reached out to our allied organizations and species-specific veterinarians to understand what impact this ban would have on veterinarians' ability to practice medicine.

Now, let me get down to specifics.

The article states, "So when it came to mounting a response to the FDA's prohibition of extra-label use of cephalosporins on farms, the industry turned to the American Veterinary Medical Association." This statement implies that we did the industry's bidding; that we serve as the industry's mouthpiece. This is blatantly incorrect, and we object to the tone used in the article implying that the interests of industry somehow outweigh our commitment to animal and human health. If one takes the comment to mean that industry representatives relied on our expertise to better understand the veterinary aspects of the final order, that would be correct. But I would like to reiterate that the response to the FDA was an AVMA initiative, not one put to us by the industry.

Secondly, the article states that our response to the FDA was "drafted by a panel of veterinarians employed on chicken farms across the U.S." Again, another blatantly incorrect statement. The letter of response was not drafted by a panel of any kind. As a matter of fact, it was researched, written and vetted only by AVMA staff members and sent under the signature of the association's executive vice president, without reference to, or inclusion of, any industry-related individuals or groups.

It is important for your readers to understand that, from the AVMA's perspective, the debate over the use of antibiotics in food animals is a veterinary drug availability issue, not an industry issue. If veterinarians need to treat an animal and we don't have extra-label drugs to use, we are left with few options. Extra-label use of drugs, which is legal and highly regulated by the FDA, is critically important to the practice of veterinary medicine. But rest assured that the AVMA is committed to the judicious use of antimicrobials, to ensuring the efficacy of these antimicrobials and to ensuring the highest standard of animal and public health.

Larry R. Corry, DVM
President of the American Veterinary Medical Association

Computers Better Than Teachers? It's Not That Simple
Timothy Ogden's article, "Computer Error?" (September/October) contains a singularly persistent and widespread error. It rests in the misdirected question, "Can computers teach?" The answer, if you think about it a moment, is "of course not!"

To his credit, Ogden does refer a couple of times to "educational software" and even goes so far as to tell us that two programs "had at least some nonexperimental evidence that they 'worked.'" Therein lies the relevant question, "Can computer educational software teach?" The answer to that must be another question, "Which software and how effective has it been proved to be?" Ideally, before any educational software is published, it should have been experimentally validated.

Furthermore, nearly every "experimental" comparison study I have seen fails to account for the fact that really good teachers are vastly better than some others. How can we interpret and use the result if we are not given some clue as to how good the teachers of each group were?

Three final thoughts: First, it isn't really the software that teaches, it's the person who wrote the software (often not identified!). Second, it would be more productive if we asked not "Can he, she or it teach?" but "Can each student learn from him, her or it?" Third, let's stop saying "all students should," and say "each student should."

Francis Cartier, Ph.D.
Pacific Grove, Calif.

Australia Still Getting Short Shrift In Study of Early Humans
Your September/October magazine deserves thunderous applause. However, "The Ancestor Hunter" follows a long line of researchers who ignore Australia. Shifting his attention away from mitochondrial DNA, Michael Hammer bypasses Australian evidence of early humans from the Pleistocene. An abstract from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states the case succinctly:

"DNA from ancient human remains provides perspectives on the origin of our species and the relationship between molecular and morphological variation. We report analysis of mitochondtrial DNA from the remains of 10 ancient Australians. These include the morphologically 'gracile' Lake Mungo 3 [60,000 years before the present] and three other 'gracile' individuals from Holocene deposits at Willandra Lakes [less than 10,000 years before the present], all within the skeletal range of living Australians, and six Pleistocene/early Holocene individuals [from 8,000 to 15,000 years ago] from Kow Swamp with 'robust' morphologies outside the skeletal range of contemporary indigenous Australians. Lake Mungo 3 is the oldest (Pleistocene) 'anatomically modern' human from whom DNA has been recovered. His mitochondrial DNA belonged to a lineage that only survives as a segment inserted into chromosome 11 of the nuclear genome, which is now widespread among human populations. This lineage probably diverged before the most recent common ancestor of contemporary human mitochondrial genomes. This timing of divergence implies that the deepest known mitochondrial DNA lineage from an anatomically modern human occurred in Australia; analysis restricted to living humans places the deepest branches in East Africa. The other ancient Australian individuals we examined have mitochondrial DNA sequences descended from the most recent common ancestor of living humans. Our results indicate that anatomically modern humans were present in Australia before the complete fixation of the lineage now found in all living people. Sequences from additional ancient humans may further challenge current concepts of modern human origins."

Glad to be a new subscriber.

Jan Saecker
Markesan, Wisc.

Philosophy Lessons Might Be a Better Bet
In Vince Besier's article about giving entrepreneurship classes to convicts, the founder of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program notes that "These men aren't locked up because they were bad businessmen. They were locked up because they lacked moral values." If that is so, wouldn't they benefit more from philosophy classes?

Gabriel Hurley
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Other Forms of Therapy Could Shine Light on MDMA for PTSD
"Exposure therapy" for those suffering from PTSD makes sense to those of us who have been trained in and practice neuro-linguistic programming. It is similar to NLP's treatment for simple phobias. First, one is "grounded in the present" by establishing and "anchoring" a state of confidence. Secondly, one is asked to picture oneself just prior to the phobic experience — but at a distance (e.g. as if viewing oneself through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars). Then one is instructed to view himself/herself going through the phobic experience from beginning to end. Then the person is asked to imagine himself/herself going through the phobic experience. If this "future pacing" produced no phobic reaction, treatment is completed. Often merely one run-through is sufficient; if not, the process is repeated until "extinction learning" has taken place. This form of brief therapy is simple and powerful. I both used it and taught it to my seminary students in classes in pastoral care. I'm happy to see that therapy of the same basic structure has been developed for PTSD.

P.S. It is interesting that at the foundation of all successful NLP therapy is empathy established between therapist and client. This may throw light on why MDMA is a useful therapeutic agent in conjunction with "exposure therapy" and "extinction learning."

Meredith Handspicker
North Bennington, Vt.
Professor of Pastoral Theology, Emeritus
Andover Newton Theological School

Miller-McCune welcomes letters to the editor, sent via e-mail to; via the comment sections of our Web site,; or by standard mail to The Editor, 804 Anacapa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101. Letters published in the print magazine may be condensed for space reasons.