By Illinois Public Interest Research Group
CHICAGO — An overwhelming majority of doctors — 93 percent — are concerned about the common meat industry practice of using antibiotics on healthy animals for growth promotion and disease prevention, according to a new poll commissioned by Consumer Reports and released by Consumers Union and Illinois PIRG (Public Interest Research Group).
“Doctors need antibiotics to keep working, and they want factory farms to stop using the medicine on healthy animals,” said Dev Gowda, advocate with Illinois PIRG’s End the Abuse of Antibiotics Campaign. “Nearly every major public health group has come out against this practice, saying reforms are needed if antibiotics are to continue working, and yet the meat industry acts as if it’s too bitter a pill to swallow.”
According to poll results and analysis available in a new report, “Prescription for Change,” 97 percent of doctors are concerned about the growing problem of drug-resistant infections. Nearly a third of doctors polled had a patient die or suffer significant complications within the last year from a multi-drug- resistant infection. The numbers were even higher for doctors who work in both outpatient and hospital settings.
“Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness due to the growing emergence of ‘superbugs,’ bacteria that are resistant to one or more classes of the drugs,” said Michael Hansen, Ph.D., senior scientist for Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports. “Untargeted and widespread use of antibiotics in meat production is contributing to this problem.”
Other key findings of the Consumer Reports poll include the following:
• 85 percent of doctors report that one or more of their patients had either a presumed or confirmed case of a multi-drug-resistant infection in the past 12 months.
• Of those doctors who had treated a confirmed or suspected case of a multi-drug-resistant infection, 35 percent treated a patient who either died or suffered serious consequences as a result of the illness. That number jumped to nearly half for doctors who work in both outpatient and hospital settings. Eighty percent of doctors agree that the group, hospital or practice they work for is actively working to minimize the inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics.
“Antibiotics are a precious resource,” said Sameer Patel, M.D. MPH, director of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital Antimicrobial Stewardship Program. “As a doctor, I need to know that the antibiotics I prescribe will work. Routine, excessive and unmonitored antibiotic use in animals for food production further increases the threat of antibiotic resistance and limits the effectiveness of antibiotics. I urge the Obama administration to include a ban on the overuse of antibiotics on farms when animals aren’t even sick in the plan they will be releasing in February.”
Dr. Susan Boyle-Vavra, director of the University of Chicago MRSA Research Center, added: “This survey revealed that 85 percent of doctors have encountered at least one multiple-drug-resistant infection in their practices, many of which were life-threatening. There is mounting genetic evidence in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that certain bacterial strains that have caused human disease originated in livestock, which is where 70 percent of the antibiotics are used in the U.S. Reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock production is a logical strategy to help prevent transmission of antibiotic-resistant pathogens to humans.”
Up to 70 percent of medically important antibiotics (and 80 percent of all antibiotics) are sold on an annual basis for use in food animal production in the United States. These antibiotics are fed mostly to healthy animals like cows, pigs and poultry to make them grow faster and to prevent disease in often crowded and unsanitary conditions on today’s industrial farms. A recent report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revealed that antibiotics use in livestock production increased 16 percent between 2009 and 2012.
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 and Prevention (CDC) 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 (WHO) 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.
This fall, President Obama issued an Executive Order to tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance. The order did not require a halt to the overuse of antibiotics on animal farms, but the administration announced that a five-year action plan will be unveiled in February 2015, giving them a fresh opportunity to stop all inappropriate uses of antibiotics on food animals.
A host of consumer, medical and public health organizations, including Consumers Union, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Health Care Without Harm, Illinois PIRG, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Physicians Alliance, and Healthy Food Action have joined in calling upon the Obama administration, meat retailers, and meat producers to stop the production and sale of meat raised with antibiotics.
As part of this effort, Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, delivered a letter signed by more than 2,000 medical professionals to Trader Joe’s headquarters near Los Angeles asking the grocer to take a stand for public health by only selling meat from animals raised without the routine use of antibiotics. Consumers Union highlighted the letter and the poll results in a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times.
“Nine out of 10 doctors say that antibiotics shouldn’t be misused on animals that aren’t sick,” Gowda said. “The Obama administration needs to hear their voice and stop this practice cold turkey.”
In September 2014, the Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted an online survey of 500 U.S. family practice and internal medicine physicians who regularly prescribe antibiotics using a random sample drawn from a panel of family care and internal medicine doctors managed by M3 Global Research. Most of the doctors surveyed work primarily in an outpatient setting (378), though 22 percent (108) work in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Another 3 percent (14) of doctors work primarily in an inpatient setting.
From the Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2014, issue