As Americans ring in the new year, many of us will resolve to get healthy. Meat and poultry producers can help -- by making a resolution to put their farm animals on an antibiotics diet.
Antibiotics are lifesaving medicines. But overusing them can have unintended consequences. That's what we're seeing on industrial farms where these drugs are being used on a massive scale in a way that threatens the public's health. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics are sold each year for use in food animal production, most often to make the animals grow faster and to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. By comparison, drug makers sold about 7 million pounds of these products last year to treat sick people.
The FDA, the U.S Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all testified before Congress that there is a definitive link between routine use of antibiotics in animal production and the crisis of resistant infections in humans. New research indicates that overuse of antibiotics in animal feed is contributing to diseases not usually associated with food. These include drug-resistant urinary tract infections and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- better known as MRSA. Even World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan warned earlier this year that the "post-antibiotic era" is getting closer every day and would represent "an end to modern medicine as we know it" in which "things as common as strep throat or a child's scratched knee could once again kill."
There is a better way. We can feed the world without overusing these drugs to produce meat and poultry.
The place to begin is with more information. The U.S. Animal Drug User Fee Act -- passed by Congress in 2008 and administered by the FDA -- requires drug manufacturers to report total sales of antibiotics in food animals. This is a small but important step in the right direction. The FDA now has the statutory authority to find out how many tons of antibiotics are purchased for use on industrial farms. But we need to know more, and the opportunity to do so is just around the corner.
The act is up for renewal in 2013, with a "must pass" deadline of September 30. Congress should work aggressively to give the FDA authority to collect information that will answer two big questions: Which food animals are being given antibiotics? And for what purpose -- growth promotion, disease prevention or treatment? Armed with better data, the agency can more precisely tailor its policies to preserve antibiotic uses that advance human and animal health while ending practices that disguise poor production habits and serve no treatment purpose.
Second, what's good for people should be good for animals. Antibiotics such as penicillin, erythromycin, and tetracycline cannot be sold to humans without a doctor's prescription. That's common knowledge. What's less well known is that anyone can walk into a feed store, or go online, and buy these same drugs for animals without veterinary supervision. This obvious inconsistency needs to end. Fortunately, the FDA has announced an end to over-the-counter antibiotic sales for animals. Now it should move as quickly as possible to finalize a rule that would require veterinarians to oversee all antibiotic use on industrial farms.
Finally, the FDA and Congress, together, can take action to make sure antibiotics are used for treating sick animals or to control disease before it destroys an entire herd or flock, not as a way to promote growth or compensate for unsanitary conditions. Earlier this year, the FDA issued draft guidelines designed to stop the misuse of these drugs. While Pew welcomes this step, the agency may still allow antibiotics to be used to mask outmoded production practices. The FDA should strengthen and finalize its guidelines without delay.
Congress should also pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. Sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and others, this bill ensures that antibiotics vital for treating sick people will no longer be fed to animals for non-therapeutic reasons.
Every time we use an antibiotic, we contribute to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. We must use these medications more conservatively -- and that means using them only to treat sick animals. Other major meat-producing nations have successfully put their livestock on an antibiotics diet -- and the Obama administration is starting to move in this direction. 2013 should be the year that industrial animal agriculture finally makes a resolution to end this practice -- and sticks to it.
- Date added:
- Dec 31, 2012
- Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming
- Antibiotics in Food Animal Production
- Related Expert:
- Laura Rogers
Chris Linaman, executive chef at Overlake Medical Center in Bellevue, WA, is dedicated to creating a more sustainable food system by supporting growers and producers who raise food without the routine use of antibiotics that endanger the public’s health. Working in partnership with Health Care Without Harm and Overlake’s administration, Chris has created a comprehensive sustainable food purchasing policy for Overlake Hospital that has resulted in many impressive achievements in just a short time.More info
Two former FDA commissioners – David Kessler (1990-1997) and Donald Kennedy (1977-1979) – wrote to OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell urging her to take action on antibiotics in agricultural feed.More info
SuperChefs Against Superbugs, an initiative of the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, is a movement of chefs nationwide who have expressed their support of ending the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in food animal production. As a result, the SuperChefs are urging the Food and Drug Administration to strengthen its antibiotic policies.More info
In comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Pew asked the agency to improve the way it reports annual sales of antibiotics for use in food animal production. Chief among its recommendations, Pew urged the FDA to amend the definition of “therapeutic” antibiotic use to more clearly exclude inappropriate uses for so-called “disease prevention” purposes that, in practice, are similar or identical to growth promotion.More info
Organizations representing the medical, public health, and sustainable agriculture communities are urging the Obama administration to end antibiotic overuse and misuse in food animal production. They asked President Obama to direct the Office of Management and Budget to finalize Food and Drug Administration Guidance #213 and issue a proposed rule on the Veterinary Feed Directive in order to initiate the three-year phase-out of growth promotion and production-related uses of antibiotics.More info
So far this year, more than 300 people have gotten sick from bacteria called Salmonella heidelberg. Almost three-quarters of them live in California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that chicken produced in three Central California processing facilities is the "likely source of this outbreak" and that the bacteria are "resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics."More info
Latest Foodborne Illnesses Show Links Between Farm Antibiotic Use and Resistant Bacteria in U.S. Poultry SupplyAn ongoing outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg this year has already sickened nearly 300 people who consumed contaminated chicken, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More info
This week, The Pew Charitable Trusts delivered a letter signed by 530 chefs to Sam Kass, executive director of Let’s Move! and senior policy advisor for nutrition at the White House, urging the Obama administration to finalize policies to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics and to protect people from resistant superbugs.More info
Consumers across the United States are demanding meat and poultry raised without antibiotics—and large producers, restaurants, and other institutions are listening. Following is a list of some leading companies offering responsibly produced food.More info
Decades have passed since FDA first tried – and failed – to restrict antibiotic use on industrial farms, a practice that contributes to the development of drug resistant bacteria that can infect people. Ask President Obama to finish the jobMore info
Jeffco Public Schools is the largest school district in Colorado with nearly 86,000 students and about 12,000 employees. On Sept. 18, 2013—Colorado Proud Day—the school system began serving chicken raised without antibiotics to its students, along with other fresh, locally produced food. Executive Director of Food and Nutrition Services Linda Stoll answered some questions about the importance of Jeffco’s new menu item.More info