Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Report puts pressure on animal agriculture and Congress to do something about issue of antibiotics

The federal Centers for Disease Control reported last month that 23,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, but Congress continues to kill "every effort to restrict the feeding of farm animals the same antibiotics used in human medicine, even as antibiotics have grown less effective in treating infection," Melinda Henneberger reports for The Washington Post. "And regulation has gotten weaker under the Obama administration." (Graphic by Antimicrobial Resistance Learning Site)
Henneberger writes about a report by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Its director, Bob Martin, said studies "show that as much as 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in this country are fed to food animals," Henneberger writes. "The more a particular germ is exposed to antibiotics, the more rapidly it can develop resistance. Most scientists agree that over-prescribing the drugs to humans is the predominant cause for bacteria evolving to outsmart them. Feeding the drugs widely to control and prevent disease in cows, pigs and chickens also is believed to play a role."

Shelly Burgess, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told the Post in an email that their plan to address the issue “is to phase out the use of medically important antibiotics in food animals for growth promotion and feed efficiency. FDA believes these drugs should be used only in situations where they are necessary for treating, controlling or preventing a specifically identified disease—and only under the oversight of a veterinarian.” (Read more)

However, the FDA is "limited in ruled-making authority," Agri-Pulse notes. This means Congress should intervene, said Michael Blackwell, former dean of the college of veterinary medicine at the University of Tennessee and a member of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which in 2008 recommended phasing out non-therapeutic use of antibiotics.

Advocates of using antibiotics disagree. "Farm and pharmaceutical lobbies have blocked all meaningful efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics in raising livestock in the United States," Henneberger writes. Emily Meredith, a spokeswoman for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, told the Post that producers "have made significant progress over the past decade and have for years been using antibiotics judiciously."

Some people see the livestock industry's response as an indication that they are paying attention to the issues at hand and some compromise could be in the offing. "Former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, who participated in the 2008 Pew Commission but did not contribute to CLF's new analysis, said he sees Tuesday's back-and-forth as a clear signal for all parties interested in antibiotics to come to the table," Agri-Pulse reports.

To read the full report click here. To read other items about this issue, click here, here and here.

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