Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem around the world, but farmers continue to contribute to it by pumping antibiotics into animals who don’t need them. In an effort to stop this controversial practice in the U.S., Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York has again introduced legislation that would end it.
“Antibiotic resistance is a major public health crisis. Every year, two million Americans acquire bacterial infections during a stay in a hospital or long-term care facility. In the past, these infections were easily cleared with antibiotics. Now, as many as 100,000 people will die each year from these infections because 70 percent of them are resistant to one or more of the drugs commonly used to treat them,” said Slaughter.
Antibiotic resistance costs an estimated $20 billion a year in excess health care costs, $35 million in other societal costs and more than 8 million additional days that people spend in the hospital, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Yet, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) continue add human antibiotics to animal feed to accelerate their growth and prevent diseases that are common in overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions. According to the FDA, 80 percent of the antibiotics produced in this country are used in animal agriculture, the vast majority of which are used for non-therapeutic purposes – around four times the amount used directly by humans.
The problem with this is animals receiving low doses of antibiotics on a regular basis are like walking petri dishes for bacterial growth that can result in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. These antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria can be spread to other animals, and to us by eating and handling meat and dairy products, along with other fruits and vegetables or by being exposed to water supplies that have been tainted by manure in the forms of fertilizer and runoff. Our livestock industry is growing something our medicine doesn’t stand a chance against, and we’re all susceptible to it whether we eat meat or not.
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to effectively ban non-therapeutic use of eight classes of antibiotics that are currently being used on healthy animals, while ensuring sick animals would still get treatment.
“Since 1977, when the FDA acknowledged the threat of antibiotic-resistant disease and called for a reduction in the use of antibiotics in animals, we have been waiting for meaningful action to protect public health,”¯ said Slaughter. “Instead, we’ve gotten delays and half measures, and as a result, even common illnesses like strep throat could soon prove fatal. I’ve introduced this legislation because Congress must act immediately to protect the public health.”
Slaughter, the only microbiologist in Congress, has introduced this legislation four times since 2007. This time around it’s been updated to add an eighth class of drugs – Cephalosporins – that would be banned for non-therapeutic use.
Earlier this month, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC held a press conference regarding a new strain of drug-resistant bacteria on the rise – carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) – which he described as a “nightmare bacteria” that can spread resistance to other germs, such as E.Coli, and kills half the patients who get bloodstream infections. He warned that we have a “limited window of opportunity,” to remedy the situation when it comes to drug-resistant bacteria.
“These bacteria are causing more hospitalized patients to get infections that, in some cases, are impossible to treat,” according to the CDC.
The Ontario Medical Association also released a report this week concerning the rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria and urged the Ontario and federal governments to regulate antibiotics used in agriculture, reports the CBC. Ontario doesn’t currently regulate how antibiotics are used on farms, or where they come from.
In the UK, health minister Anna Soubry has called on farmers, vets and drug companies to put a stop to the practice of using antibiotics on healthy animals and has written the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) asking that the practice be banned, reports the Daily Mail.
But there, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance – made up of drug companies and farmers – stated that “Allowing animals to become ill and then treating them is not considered good practice. Such a practice in human medicine would be considered negligent, and the same consideration applies to animals at risk.”
It makes one wonder where they stand on knowing we won’t be able to treat people who get sick because they were treating animals who weren’t to compensate for filthy conditions, overcrowding and a desire to cut costs.
In the U.S., there are 450 organizations that support PAMPTA including public health organizations, scientists, the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences and small farmers across the country.
“When we go to the grocery store to pick up dinner, we should be able to buy our food without the worry that eating it will expose our family to potentially deadly bacteria that will no longer respond to our medical treatments. Unless we act now, we will unwittingly be permitting animals to serve as incubators for resistant bacteria,” said Slaughter in a statement.
Hopefully, Congress will recognize the seriousness of the problem this time around and pass PAMTA.
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