June 20, 2011
Last week, Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) took an important stand in support of America’s health by reintroducing the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (S. 1211). The bill aims to prevent the misuse of antibiotics in agriculture to ensure their continued effectiveness in the treatment of both human and animal diseases. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) are co-sponsoring, and the bill has been referred to the Senate Committee of Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has been the major champion for PAMTA in the House and has made several attempts to push the bill forward. She reintroduced it this year, and in March it entered the House Subcommittee on Health.
In her introduction, Sen. Feinstein explained the significance of the bill, particularly its role in protecting public health. Currently, about 80% of all antibiotics sold are for livestock, mostly for nontherapeutic purposes. Approximately 74% of these antibiotics are administered through feed containing low doses. This provides imprecise and inconsistent drug dosing that can result in drug resistance amongst surviving bacteria. Unfortunately, these resistant microbes can travel to humans and cause serious illnesses that are no longer treatable with standard antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance is a major public health crisis, and thousands of Americans fall ill with resistant strains every year. Recent studies conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Translational Genomics Research Institute all point to agricultural practices as a major contributor to this resistance. In fact, an interdepartmental effort involving several US agencies resulted last year in a Congressional testimony from the CDC, FDA, and USDA calling for the responsible use of antibiotics in agricultural practices. Such findings indicate that the continued misuse of antibiotics in food animal production will increase the number of Americans who contract resistant illnesses and reduce the number of treatments available to them-a worrying proposition with dire outcomes. As Sen. Feinstein stated in her introduction of the bill, “The reason I am so committed to this legislation is that a reduction in highly resistant infections will save lives.”
Though the bill still has a long way to go before it is law, its reintroduction to the House and Senate is an important step in addressing a major public health risk. The Center for a Livable Future is deeply concerned about antibiotic resistance and supports research on this and other public health risks associated with industrial food animal production. Dr. Robert Lawrence of the Center for a Livable Future states, “This is an important development in determining the future of our ability to protect public health. There is no question that immediate action is needed to preserve the effectiveness of the treatments we depend on today, and hope to rely on tomorrow. I commend Senators Feinstein and Collins for their introduction of this bill in the Senate, and call on their peers to recognize the import and urgency of this issue to protect the health of the American people.”
– Marlena White