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Doctors, health groups call for end to antibiotic abuse on factory farms
Online Staff Report
Doctors and health organizations called upon the Barack Obama administration Aug. 5 to immediately restrict the use of antibiotics on factory farms when animals are not sick. The doctors are part of a nationwide coalition of more than 2,000 medical professionals working against the declining effectiveness of antibiotics as a result of overuse and misuse.
“To combat the threat of antibiotic resistance, we need a commitment to responsible planning and management of antibiotics — limiting unnecessary antibiotic use in both medicine and food production,” said Sameer Patel, M.D./MPH, attending, infectious diseases, and director of Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.
Dr. Patel spoke at an event with Illinois PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund, which was releasing a new report titled “Ending the Abuse of Antibiotics in Livestock Production: The Case for Reform.”
Antibiotics, a pillar of modern medicine, are losing their effectiveness as a result of the emergence of “superbugs,” bacteria that are resistant to one or more classes of drugs. A phenomenon fueled by untargeted and widespread use, experts point to the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms as a major contributor to the problem.
More than 70 percent of antibiotics in classes used in human medicine are sold for use in food animals, typically to increase the speed at which animals gain weight or to prevent disease caused by unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. This use fuels the creation of resistant bacteria that can spread off farms via food, animal to human contact, and animal waste that enters the environment.
“Antimicrobial resistance is a growing public health problem that requires immediate action,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois. “A major cause is the use of antimicrobials in livestock — used to make animals bigger and heavier. The result for humans is that bacteria become resistant to antimicrobials, and we are more susceptible to serious illness or even death. Stopping the overuse and overexposure of antimicrobials in livestock is a key solution to protecting human health.”
Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a small first step by issuing guidelines for antibiotics use on farms. Unfortunately, the guidelines were voluntary and narrow in scope, and are unlikely to lead to significant reductions in antibiotic misuse on farms.
A growing body of experts in the United States and across the globe is calling for stronger action. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently estimated that drug-resistant bacterial infections make 2 million people sick in the United States each year and cause 23,000 deaths. A recent World Health Organization report on the issue estimated resistant infections result in 8 million additional days in hospitals, which costs between $21 and $34 billion each year in the United States alone.
“Despite scientific consensus that we must restrict the use of antibiotics on factory farms, little is being done,” said Emily Carroll, Midwest region director of Food & Water Watch. “This is a political problem that needs a political solution, and that is why we are calling on all of our decision-makers here in Illinois, particularly Congress and President Obama, to take meaningful action that will save antibiotics for everyone.”
Jeanine Thomas, president and founder of MRSA Survivors Network, said: “Antibiotic resistance is a major global health threat and should be a top political priority. The overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals, along with continued lapses in infection control in health care facilities, has created a MRSA epidemic and now threatens our environment, namely our water supply, and is a direct result of factory farming.”
“The science is overwhelming that antibiotics shouldn’t be misused on animals that aren’t sick. The Obama administration needs to stop this practice cold turkey,” said Zack Deutsch-Gross, End the Abuse of Antibiotics citizen outreach director for Illinois PIRG, a statewide consumer advocacy group. Illinois PIRG has signed on more than 200 health professionals to the campaign in the past few months.
Victims at especially high risk include patients receiving cancer chemotherapy, complex surgeries, dialysis, and organ and bone marrow transplants. These patients are much more susceptible to bacterial infection, and treatment relies often on effective antibiotics to ensure recovery. A drug-resistant infection could mean more stress, illness, cost and sometimes death in these cases.
Posted Aug. 5, 2014