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How Factory Farm Drug Abuse Makes Vets Rich

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Addicted to Antibiotics
How Factory Farm Drug Abuse Makes Vets Rich
By Nils Klawitter

It's no secret that factory farms use unconscionable amounts of antibiotics when fattening up animals for market. In Germany, however, veterinarians play a crucial role in the abuse. Many are getting rich in the process, but the risks to both human and animals are many.

When Almera the cow suffers from twisted bowel or Avatar the llama shows signs of tuberculosis, Björn Seelig is on the scene. He is a veterinarian in the Taunus Mountains, north of Frankfurt, and one of Germany's best-known veterinarians. He demonstrates his dexterity in an afternoon television show on Germany's VOX channel.

The program, the name of which can be translated as "People, Animals and Doctors," depicts touchingly idyllic scenes of country veterinarians striding across springtime meadows in their rubber boots, hard at work next to grazing lambs. Strong medications are rarely used in this television world.

The idyllic scenes are deceptive. Many of Seelig's fellow veterinarians, with access to an entire battery of drugs on the shelves of their practices, take a completely different approach. In the past, veterinarians, including those in Seelig's practice, used these drugs in abundance and on a large scale. Indeed, a year and a half ago, three veterinarians in his practice were ordered to pay fines totalling €90,000 ($117,000).

They had sold huge quantities of drugs, some of which were not approved, and dispensed dozers of liters of medications to animals to which they should never have been administered. Investigators with the public prosecutor's office in the western city of Wiesbaden called the operation a "pharmacy on wheels." Antibiotics were allegedly stored on pallets. A former employee told investigators at the time that the veterinary clinic was essentially a mail-order operation for drugs, and that the pharmaceutical industry had expressed its gratitude by giving the clinic huge discounts.

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