Reining in the unnecessary use of antibiotics
The USDA is playing the dreadful monkey game of see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil when it comes to the use of antibiotics in concentrated animal feeding operations.
Monday, July 18, 2011 - 19:21
Imagine sprinkling antibiotics on your cereal or eggs every morning with the goal of preventing infection. That is exactly what is happening to U.S. livestock — 80 percent of all antibiotics in the United States are used in animal agriculture on poultry, cattle and pigs.
That number is four times the amount of antibiotics used to treat humans. As the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof explains, "the cavalier use of low level antibiotics creates a perfect breeding ground for antibiotic resistant pathogens." These animals are kept in deplorable, unsanitary conditions. Antibiotics are routinely added to the animals' feed and water to both accelerate growth and prevent disease. Ironically, the overuse of antibiotics in animals is causing both illness and antibiotic resistance in humans.
Facilities perpetuate the problem
A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, is an EPA designation for a farming facility that keeps numerous animals raised for food in close confinement, with the potential to pollute. These facilities often:
· produce extreme amounts of waste, which ends up in toxic lagoons, sprayed on the land, and eventually in the watershed
· require the use of high doses of antibiotics, thereby adding to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria
· are exempt from most animal cruelty laws.
A 2002 analysis of more than 500 scientific articles and published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that "many lines of evidence link antimicrobial resistant human infections to foodborne pathogens of animal origin." A National Academy of Sciences report states, "a decrease in antimicrobial use in human medicine alone will have little effect on the current situation. Substantial efforts must be made to decrease inappropriate overuse in animals and agriculture as well."
What's being done to fix this?
On March 17, 2009, New York Congresswoman Louise McIntosh Slaughter introduced H.R. 1549, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act would:
· phase out the non-therapeutic use in livestock of medically important antibiotics
· require this same tough standard of new applications for approval of animal antibiotics
· not restrict use of antibiotics to treat sick animals or to treat pets and other animals not used for food.
Congresswoman Slaughter has been a tireless advocate of the effort to curtail the abuse of antibiotics in agriculture and the elimination of the routine use of antibiotics in healthy animals. In a letter to the Commissioner of the FDA dated August 30, 2010, Slaughter argues that a decrease in the use of antimicrobial agents in human medicine is not enough. She urges the FDA to pass regulations to "clearly and explicitly call for the elimination of the routine use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals."
Testimony from Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Principle Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, was clear in that the overall weight of evidence supports the conclusion that using antibiotics for production purposes in livestock farming (as growth promoters and to prevent rather than treat illness) is not in the interest of protecting and promoting public health.
H.R. 1549 continues to languish in committee while a few elected officials spend the taxpayers' time and money to pretend the science they are calling for doesn't already exist in mountains.
The food industry's counterargument: Tough restrictions could drive up farmers' costs without improving public health.
"Before we go down a path that will have a devastating economic impact on our agriculture industry, we must assure science drives this debate," said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). "So far there's nothing that links use in animals to a buildup of resistance in humans."
Seventy percent of all health care-related infections in the U.S. are resistant to at least one antibiotic, Murphy said, at an annual cost of $50 billion. Murphy added that one antibiotic-resistant infection — MRSA — kills more Americans each year than HIV/AIDS.
We need to rein in the unnecessary use of these drugs to reduce the prevalence of resistant bacteria and preserve the use of these important medications for when they are needed most. If you choose to eat meat, steer clear of antibiotics in your burger or chicken, by buying organic. Antibiotics are banned in USDA certified organic meat production. If possible, try to purchase meat from a local and sustainable source. Let's all learn to become cautious omnivores.
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