"Chaos will ensue," said Kansas Republican Congressman Jerry Moran. "The cultivation of crops and the production of food animals is an immensely complex endeavor involving a vast range of processes. We raise a multitude of crops and livestock in numerous regions, using various production methods. Imagine if the government is allowed to dictate how all of that is done."
He's backed by an array of powerful interests, including the American Farm Bureau, the National Pork Producers Council, Eli Lilly & Co., Bayer AG, Pfizer Inc., Schering-Plough Corp., Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto Company, who have repeatedly defeated similar legislation.
The FDA says without new laws its options are limited. The agency approved antibiotic use in animals in 1951, before concerns about drug resistance were recognized. The only way to withdraw that approval is through a drug-by-drug process that can take years of study, review and comment.
In 1977 the agency proposed a ban on penicillin and tetracycline in animal feed, but it was defeated after criticism from interest groups.
There has been one ban: In 2000, for the first time, the FDA ordered the poultry medication Baytril off the market. Five years later, after a series of failed appeals, poultry farmers stopped using the drug.
In 2008 the FDA issued its second limit on an antibiotic used in cows, pigs and chickens, citing "the importance of cephalosporin drugs for treating disease in humans." But the Bush Administration — in an FDA note in the federal register — reversed that decision five days before it was going to take effect after receiving several hundred letters from drug companies and farm animal trade groups.
Laura Rogers, who directs the Pew Charitable Trusts Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming in Washington D.C., says the federal government, from Congress to the administration, has failed to protect the public.
"Because of poor regulations and oversight of drug use in industrial farm animals, consumers in the U.S. do not know what their food is treated with, or how often," she said. "Nor is there a system in place to test meat for dangerous antibiotic resistant bacteria."
Back in Missouri, farmer Kremer finally found an antibiotic that worked on his leg. After being released from the hospital, Kremer tested his pigs. The results showed they were resistant to all the same drugs he was.
Kremer tossed his hypodermic needles, sacked his buckets of antibiotic-laced feed, slaughtered his herd and started anew.
"I was wearing a syringe, like a holster, like a gun, because my pigs were all sick," he recalled. "I was really getting so sick and aggravated at what I was doing. I said, 'This isn't working.'"
Today, when Kremer steps out of his dusty and dented pickup truck and walks toward the open-air barn in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, the animals come running. They snort and root at his knee-high gum boots. There are no gates corralling the 180 pigs in this barn. He points to a mound of composting manure.
"There's no antibiotics in there," he says proudly.
Kremer sells about 1,200 pigs annually. And a year after "kicking the habit," he says he saved about $16,000 in vet bills, vaccinations and antibiotics.
"I don't know why it took me that long to wake up to the fact that what we were doing, it was not the right thing to do and that there were alternatives," says Kremer, stooping to scratch a pig behind the ear. "We were just basically killing ourselves and society by doing this."
Martha Mendoza is an AP national writer based in Mexico City. Margie Mason is an AP medical writer who reported from Missouri and Iowa while on a fellowship from The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.