July 14, 2009
It was packed room at yesterday’s House Rules Committee hearing on the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). The hearing, held to discuss the bill (HR 1549) introduced by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, pumped additional energy into PAMTA, which now has 43 co-sponsors. The hearing followed several activities held during the past week to call attention to the bill, including a showing last Thursday night of the movie, “Food, Inc,” for Hill staffers.
Testifying were Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Mellon, Ph.D, director, Food and Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists; Lance Price, Ph.D., director, Center for Metagenomics and Human Health Associate Investigator, Pathogen Genomics Division; Bob Martin, former executive director, Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production; Steve Ells, chairman and CEO, Chipotle Mexican Grill; and Fedele Bauccio, president and CEO, Bon Appetit Management Company.
HR 1549 would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to preserve the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics used in the treatment of human and animal diseases.
Dr. Sharfstein called for a ban on the use of therapeutic antibiotics saying, “eliminating these uses will not compromise the safety of food.” The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that nearly 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to healthy animals to promote growth and prevent disease.
“Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest public health threats that we face today,” Dr. Price, a CLF science advisor and past CLF Fellow, told the committee. “For decades, the discovery of new antibiotics out-paced the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. In recent years, however, the rate of new antibiotic discovery has plummeted; and, we are now witnessing the emergence of bacterial pathogens that are resistant to all of our approved antibiotics. Sadly, thousands of Americans die every year from infections that were once treatable with antibiotics.”
As a microbiologist, Chairwoman Slaughter, who has become increasingly concerned about the repercussions of feeding critical medication to livestock, introduced the legislation in March. PAMTA appears to be gaining steam as Rep. Slaughter seeks to add to the list of 43 co-sponsors.
Several blogs and on-line newspapers picked up on the PAMTA hearing, which was somewhat overwhelmed by other news on the Hill, including the first day of Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The blog, Obama Foodorama said the “overuse of medication amounts to a public health ponzi scheme: The practice of dosing healthy food animals is turning once-powerful antibiotics into the equivalent of candy.
“Sharfstein socks one to Big Meat,” said The Ethicurean. The New Republic asks, Do Our Chickens Have A Drug Problem? Gastro Nomalies said of Sharfstein’s testimony, “Huge move today, that seemed to come out of nowhere.”