September 7, 2011
As Congress returns to work this week, the Pew Health Group and a dozen other scientific, medical, and public health organizations have submitted a joint letter aimed at senators, representatives, legislative staffers and the FDA. The letter, titled “Sound Science: Antibiotic Use in Food Animals Leads to Drug Resistant Infections in People,” is a renewed clarification of the state of scientific knowledge concerning ways in which industrial food animal production (IFAP) contributes to human antibiotic resistance.
Those familiar with the antibiotic resistance issue will recognize the case that the letter makes for ending the misuse of antibiotics in food animals. While the letter makes a clear and solid case for rethinking the use of antibiotics in food animals, I’d like to make some additional points. First, given their close contact with animals and animal waste in the workplace, employees of IFAP facilities are the ones at greatest risk for becoming infected with drug-resistant pathogens. Also, IFAP sites degrade the communities in which they’re sited by contaminating air, water and soils with an extensive variety of site-origined biological and chemical hazards, and by creating indelible rifts in the social fabric that once tied many of these rural communities together. Further, research has demonstrated that these phenomena often occur in low-income communities of color—in many cases, at the expense of people who are not empowered to defend themselves against the injustices they face.
Much of the media attention surrounding the antibiotic resistance issue focuses on risks faced by consumers of meat products. While these concerns are legitimate, it is essential that the wellbeing of the people at greatest risk of acquiring resistant infections—IFAP site workers and agricultural community residents—are at the forefront of policymakers’ minds.
For 15 years, the Center for a Livable Future has been as concerned with the impact of agriculture, especially IFAP, on justice for workers and the integrity of communities as it has been with the health of the population at large. I hope that these points will not be overlooked.
The letter cites more than a dozen reviews and articles published by institutions such as the WHO, FDA, Institute of Medicine, U.S. Government Accountability Office, and the Department of Health and Human Services, and it reintroduces evidence concerning the risks of using subtherapeutic amounts of antibiotics in animal feed, mainly the development of multidrug-resistant bacteria that is difficult or impossible to treat in humans. Center for a Livable Future is among the 13 co-signers of the letter, alongside the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.