Friday, June 12, 2015

'Astroturf' campaign aimed at newspapers uses same letter to back Obama's move on antibiotics

The same letter, attributed to different local authors, sometimes with slight editing, has been popping up in newspapers across the country in defense of President Obama's plan to phase out antibiotic use in animals, reader Shawn Clubb alerted news-media watcher Jim Romenesko. Clubb, who works at a research and monitoring company, said the letter has appeared in at least 70 papers. It's the latest example of an "astroturf" campaign, which tries to fake grassroots support for a point of view.

The push to eliminate antibiotics has been widespread, with the White House releasing a memorandum earlier this month to phase out antibiotics and more than 150 companies agreeing to phase out use in animals. By the end of the year the Food and Drug Administration is expected to a release a comprehensive set of rules to limit the use of antibiotics in animals.

The letter circulating in papers reads like this, more or less:

"President Obama directed federal agencies to serve antibiotic-free meat and poultry in government cafeterias. The Food and Drug Administration will require animal producers to obtain authorization from a licensed veterinarian to use drugs to treat a specific disease, rather than just to promote rapid growth, as is current practice. As much as 80 percent of all U.S. antibiotics are used in animal agriculture.

"The moves come amid growing concern about the link between routine antibiotic use in animal agriculture and human infections by bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics because of their excessive use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that antibiotic resistance causes 2 million illnesses per year in the U.S. and 23,000 deaths. It also adds $20 billion per year in health care costs and $35 billion in lost productivity.

"And we thought that animal products were just linked to heart disease, cancer and stroke.

"While government agencies reduce antibiotics in animal products, the rest of us can do better with wholesome vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains and a rich variety of plant-based meats, cheeses, milks and ice creams available in every supermarket. These foods contain all the nutrients we require, without the deadly pathogens, antibiotics, carcinogens, cholesterol and saturated fats."

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