Antibiotics in Food Animal Production: Pew’s Response to Raymond Op-Ed
In his attempt to clarify the issue of antibiotic use in meat and poultry production ("Antibiotics and Animals Raised for Food: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics,"), Dr. Richard Raymond confuses matters.
Most importantly, Dr. Raymond mischaracterizes the value of tetracyclines and the dangers of their overuse. The World Health Organization ranks their importance on par with macrolides (such as the “Z-Pak” antibiotic Azithromycin), fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins, which Dr. Raymond acknowledges are worth protecting. (By the way, in 2009, five times more macrolides were sold for food animal production than for treating sick people.) Yet even if doctors stop prescribing tetracycline, its widespread use on industrial farms will still pose a serious threat to our health. Bacteria often develop resistance to other classes of drugs as a direct result of their exposure to tetracyclines.
Dr. Raymond also asserts that to compare human and animal antibiotic sales more appropriately, one must exclude drugs that are not prescribed for people and, therefore, are not medically important. This changes little, however. After subtracting animal-only antibiotics from this comparison, about 70 percent of medically important antibiotics are still sold for use on industrial farms.
As to Denmark’s antibiotics policies, they have been successful. Overall antibiotic use on industrial farms is down, the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria in animals and on meat is also down, production is up, and prices are stable.
We agree with Dr. Raymond that resistance is driven by human antibiotic use, but not exclusively. Overuse of these drugs anywhere is a threat to health everywhere, so this fight requires a 360-degree strategy that tackles antibiotic overuse in hospitals and on farms, infection control and the development of new drugs. That is why The Pew Charitable Trusts has multiple efforts underway to protect the public from resistant infections. Pew’s Antibiotics and Innovation Project is working to stimulate the development of new drugs to fight emerging superbugs. The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming is aimed squarely at preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics by curbing their overuse in food animal production. We oppose the use of antibiotics for growth promotion but strongly support their use to treat sick animals and to control the spread of infection in flocks or herds where disease is present. If illnesses are routinely occurring from birth through slaughter, however, then that suggests there are serious, systemic issues better solved by cleaner conditions and modified husbandry practices—not by using antibiotics as a crutch.
It is worth noting that the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and several Nobel laureates, among many others, recognize that medically important antibiotics are being overused and misused on industrial farms at the expense of human health and that it is in the public’s interest to rein in these practices and preserve the effectiveness of these life-saving resources.
Surveys of the animal production industry by the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrate that many farms and ranches administer antibiotics to healthy animals at low doses to offset overcrowding and poor sanitation and to accelerate livestock growth—practices that the medical and public health communities document as a significant factor in human antibiotic resistance. In 2013, FDA took steps to address these concerns.
MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of bacteria that can infect a person’s skin, bones, lungs, heart, brain, and blood. Unlike common staph, MRSA does not respond to traditional antibiotics such as penicillin, making it more difficult and costlier to treat, and more lethal. More info
To prepare for the big game this Sunday, some of America’s top athletes will run drills and watch film to anticipate the other team’s strategy—but even the best players cannot predict what might be their fiercest opposition. More info
Like rivals on the gridiron, superbugs and antibiotic drugs are battling for supremacy. Check out the players on Team Antibiotic and Team Superbug. 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
Industrialized poultry production in the United States delivers considerable efficiencies, but the same system carries significant, hidden costs for the environment, for many communities where chickens are raised for industrial production, and sometimes for the chicken growers themselves, according to a report released today by The Pew Charitable Trusts. More info
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today issued a set of policies to curb the overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms. Using these drugs in animals and people contributes to the spread of resistant bacteria that can infect and hospitalize people. About 70 percent of medically important antibiotics sold in this country are for food animals, and most are used in feed without supervision of a veterinarian. More info
The New York State Parent Teacher Association made history at its 117th Annual Convention by becoming the first state PTA to take a stand against antibiotic overuse in livestock. On November 16, delegates passed a resolution calling on Congress and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to protect human health from antibiotic overuse on industrial meat and poultry farms. More info
This Thanksgiving, as Americans think of family and feasting, consumers can use the opportunity to encourage a food production system that promotes and protects our health. More info
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
November 18-24 is Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, an annual campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that promotes the importance of appropriate antibiotic use. The human health and industrial farming campaign of The Pew Charitable Trust has created an interactive quiz to highlight the overuse of antibiotics in animal food production and test your knowledge of the issue. 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
On Oct. 22, 2013, Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health published a report on the state of industrial animal agriculture. It looked back at a 2008 report from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and assessed the government’s progress in addressing the panel’s recommendations. Here is a list of frequently asked questions about the Pew commission’s work and legacy. More info