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A War On Drugs I Can Support

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 08:00:00 AM PDT

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Finally there's a war on drugs I can support: the fight to get non-therapeutic antibiotics OUT of livestock feed. Hallelujah!

Following Nicholas Kristof's fantastic op ed Pathogens in our Pork, today Louise Slaughter and Ted Kennedy each introduced bills into the House and Senate, respectively, that would ban 7 classes of antibiotics from nontherapeutic use in livestock.

There are a few reasons why these bills are so good. First, the problem of antibiotic resistance is reversible. It's not "too late" and stopping the practice of nontherapeutic antibiotic use (i.e. giving drugs to animals who aren't sick for disease prevention or growth promotion) WILL make a difference. Second, it's important to not only ban drugs used in human medicine from nontherapeutic use in livestock but entire drug classes as the bill does. This is because a bug that evolves resistance to a drug can easily become resistant to other drugs in the same drug class. In other words, Slaughter and Kennedy really got it right when they wrote this bill.

Jill Richardson :: A War On Drugs I Can Support
Slaughter's bill is H.R.1549, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009 (PAMTA... catchy acronym, I know). She's got 22 co-sponsors so far, all the usual suspects and not one Republican. You can see their names at the link and if you don't see your rep listed, give their office a call and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. Kennedy's bill is S.619 and so far his only co-sponsor is Olympia Snowe of Maine, so I guess you could say the bill is bipartisan.

To read more on this topic, check out Tom Philpott's article An Anti-Drug Campaign That Makes Sense, U.S. Food Policy's Limiting Nontherapeutic Antibiotics in Meat, The Atlantic's The Politics of Animal Antibiotics, Think Forward's Saving Antibiotics, and perhaps my favorite, Obama Foodorama's Kristof Calls for End to Overuse of Antibiotics. She says:

Unfortunately, Mr. Kristof doesn't finish off his argument. He's been terrific at writing about food and Ag lately, but he fails to point out that halting antibiotic resistance and the spread of superbugs won't just happen by legislating antibiotic use. It can only happen by making antibiotic use in healthy animals unnecessary. And this can only happen if industrialized Ag is turned on its (sow's) ear. Dismantling the agribusiness system that allows for massive CAFOS to flourish needs to happen, or there will be pandemic superbugs emerging at an even greater rate, even if overuse of antibiotics is stopped.

And what did "Big Pig" say in response to the bad publicity it has gotten lately? As Tom Laskawy said, And here it is in all its lameness:

"They are making a huge leap attributing MRSA in these people to hogs," says Angela DeMirjyn, science communications manager for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). The pork organization has been researching MRSA for some time, says DeMirjyn, and supports the CDC's statement that most community acquired MRSA infections are caused by a different bacteria than is commonly associated with pigs or pig farms.

Move along, nothing to see here, these aren't the droids you're looking for. Of course.

According to the radio program, Agritalk, the National Pork Producers Council said Slaughter's bill PAMTA "would be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of pigs, would increase production costs and the price consumers pay for pork, and could jeopardize public health." The President of the NPPC added that the bill is "irresponsible." Nice.

As you can see from, agribusiness is quaking in its boots. They are nervous about the Democratic majority in Congress that gives Slaughter's bill a chance at passing, and an LA Times editorial that said:

"The timing is right in other ways as well. In January, the Department of Agriculture - responsible for promoting the meat industry as well as consumer health - reported that, except during the nursery stage for young pigs, the costs of using preventive or growth-promoting antibiotics slightly outweighed the economic benefits for farms. That's not counting the added costs to consumers in prescription prices for more exotic antibiotics or the $4 billion a year this country spends to combat resistant infections. Some farms are successfully using better sanitation and tracking of illnesses among their herds instead of preventive antibiotics.

"It would be a mistake to delay restrictions on antibiotic use until the situation has a chance to reach dire proportions; there is no guarantee that specialized antibiotics could be developed in time to thwart a new wave of drug-resistant bacteria. Humans don't need antibiotics to treat common colds, which are caused by viruses rather than bacteria, and animals don't need them to grow."

Below, I've included Olympia Snowe's statement as she introduced this bill:

Mr. President, today we face growing concerns about infectious disease which few could have anticipated. Over a half century ago, following the development of modern antibiotics, Nobel Laureate Sir McFarland Burnet summed up what many experts believed when he stated, "One can think of the middle of the twentieth century as the end of one of the most important social revolutions in history, the virtual elimination of infectious diseases as a significant factor in social life".

How things have changed! Today many of the world's greatest killers are infectious diseases--including HIV, tuberculosis, malaria--and increasingly our Nation is susceptible. We have concerns about both natural pandemics--such as those caused by influenza--as well as manmade threats.

At the same time that the threat has grown, we have seen an alarming trend as existing antibiotics are becoming less effective in treating infections. We know that resistance to drugs can be developed, and that the more we expose bacteria to antibiotics, the more resistance we will see. So it is critical to address preserving the lifesaving antibiotic drugs we have today so that they will be of use in treating disease when they are needed.

Today over 9 out of 10 Americans understand that resistance to antibiotics is a problem. Most Americans have learned that colds and flu are caused by viruses, and recognize that treating a cold with an antibiotic is inappropriate. Our health care providers are more careful to discriminate when to use antibiotics, because they know that when a patient who has been inappropriately prescribed an antibiotic actually develops a bacterial infection, it is more likely to be resistant to treatment.

When we overuse antibiotics, we risk eliminating the very cures which scientists fought so hard to develop. The threat of bioterrorism amplifies the danger. We have supported increased NIH research funding, as well as bioshield legislation, in order to promote development of essential drugs, both to address natural and manmade threats. It is so counterproductive to develop antimicrobial drugs and see their misuse render them ineffective.

Yet every day in America antibiotics continue to be used in huge quantities when there is no disease present to treat. I am speaking of the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture. Simply put, the practice of feeding antibiotics to healthy animals jeopardizes the effectiveness of these medicines in treating ill people and animals.

Recognizing the public health threat caused by antibiotic resistance, Congress in 2000 amended the Public Health Threats and Emergencies Act to curb antibiotic overuse in human medicine. Yet today, it is estimated that 70 percent of the antimicrobials used in the United States are fed to farm animals for nontherapeutic purposes including growth promotion, poor management practices and crowded, unsanitary conditions.

In March 2003, the National Academies of Sciences stated that a decrease in antimicrobial use in human medicine alone will not solve the problem of drug resistance. Substantial efforts must be made to decrease inappropriate overuse of antibiotics in animals and agriculture.

Four years ago five major medical and environmental groups--the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, Environmental Defense, the Food Animal Concerns Trust and the Union of Concerned Scientists--jointly filed a formal regulatory petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to withdraw approvals for seven classes of antibiotics which are used as agricultural feed additives. They pointed out what we have known for years--that antibiotics which are crucial to treating human disease should never be used except for their intended purpose--to treat disease.

In a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 17 percent of drug-resistant staph infections had no apparent links to health-care settings. Nearly one in five of these resistant infections arose in the community--not in the health care setting. While must do more to address inappropriate antibiotic use in medicine, the use of these drugs in our environment cannot be ignored.

Most distressingly, we have seen the USDA issue a fact sheet on the recently recognized link between antimicrobial drug use in animals and the methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureas, MRSA, infections in humans. These infections literally threaten life and limb!

So it should be clear why I have joined with Senator Kennedy in again introducing the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. Senator Kennedy is truly a champion of public health and understands how critical it is to preserve the drugs we must have in our arsenal to combat infectious diseases. I am honored to join with him in an effort to preserve vital drugs and reduce the development of drug-resistant organisms which threaten human health.

This bill phases out the nontherapeutic uses of critical medically important antibiotics in livestock and poultry production, unless their manufacturers can show that they pose no danger to public health.

Our legislation requires the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw the approval for nontherapeutic agricultural use of antibiotics in food-producing animals if the antibiotic is used for treating human disease, unless the application is proven harmless within 2 years. The same tough standard of safety will apply to new applications for approval of animal antibiotics.

This legislation places no unreasonable burden on producers. It does not restrict the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals, or for that matter to treat pets and other animals not used for food.

As we are constantly reminded, the discovery and development of a new drug can require great time and expense. It is simply common sense that we preserve the use of the drugs which we already have, and use them appropriately. I call on my colleagues to support us in this effort.

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Good for Olympia! (4.00 / 1)
If Republicans like her were to come back to dominate the GOP, I could perhaps respect the party.  Too bad they have become the "party of no" and a party of clowns.

Her statement presents the case nicely.  More people should read it.

Mmmm...amending comment (4.00 / 1)
I noticed in the letters to the editor this morning in the New York Times, that the antibiotic issue is more complex than I knew.  Of course I have no medical background at all. But I would recommend reading those letters.  Several are by people highly trained in infectious diseases.

Click on this URL:

Also Kristoff's column today was a bit of a challenge to all of us:  we tend to read and believe what supports our worldview and to disengage from points of view that may challenge us.  I know I'm guilty of that - I've got to watch it, though it is hard sometimes.  

antibiotics in vegetables (4.00 / 1)
Another source of antibiotic resistance seldom mentioned. What fertilizer choices do farmers have? Chemical fertilizer or manure basically. I suggest serious moves to limit antibiotic use in animals. This would, of course, mean an end to CAFO's as they rely on antibiotics to keep large confined groups of animals growing and alive.

From Environmental Health News

"Vegetables such as corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when grown in soil fertilized with livestock manure, according to tests conducted at the University of Minnesota.

Today, close to 70 percent of the total antibiotics and related drugs produced in the United States are fed to cattle, pigs and poultry, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Although this practice sustains a growing demand for meat, it also generates public health fears associated with the expanding presence of antibiotics in the food chain."

the only thought I've heard for that (0.00 / 0)
is that composting does a good job getting rid of most of the stuff that shouldn't be there. I asked at Rodale and that's the answer I got.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

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