United Kingdom, Australia Take Action to Fight Superbugs
The United Kingdom and Australia are looking to curb the overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms.
As the United States waits for Congress and the Food and Drug Administration to rein in the overuse of antibiotics on industrial farms, the rest of the world has been much less complacent. In early January, the World Economic Forum released its "Global Risks 2013
" report and included antibiotic resistance and the dwindling arsenal of these drugs as a top global threat, calling for an end to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in food animal production. Individual countries, most recently the United Kingdom and Australia, have also stepped up to sound the alarm on superbugs and have taken significant strides to regulate use of these drugs within their borders.
Across the Atlantic, the British Parliament recently held a debate on the use of antibiotics in food animal production. Conservative Member of Parliament Zac Goldsmith spoke at length on the worrying connection between their overuse in agriculture and the rise of drug-resistant bacteria in humans, warning that "by overusing antibiotics, we risk ruining for future generations one of the great discoveries of our species."
Additionally, the United Kingdom's Department of Health is currently developing a five-year antimicrobial resistance plan. Goldsmith called on the government to include in this strategy a legally binding timetable to "restrict the prophylactic use of antibiotics, to limit the prescription and use of antimicrobials for the herd treatment of animals to cases in which a vet has assessed that there is a clear clinical justification and to limit the use of critically important antibiotics to cases in which no other type of antimicrobials will be effective."
Australia's Senate is expected to launch an inquiry in March into an expert committee’s 1999 recommendations to combat antibiotic resistance in that country. Until now, the 22 recommendations listed in the committee’s report have largely been ignored. "We've lost over a decade now in terms of our response," lamented Greens Senator Richard Di Natale.
Peter Collignon, member of the expert committee and professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University, cited a lack of political will to stand up to the animal agriculture industry on the issue. Hopefully, the upcoming inquiry will push the Australia government to move forward on the committee’s recommendations and take action to combat the rise of superbugs.
These recent steps, coupled with progress to curb antibiotic overuse in several EU countries including Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, show a growing global consensus on this issue. With more than 40 years of scientific and economic literature on how antibiotic use in food animal production contributes to the growing health crisis of antibiotic resistance, the United States must join the fight. To protect public health, Congress and the Obama administration can start by standing up to Big Ag.
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
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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
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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