Elections, the bad news. A lot happened on Tuesday at the polls, and how the shift in our representation affects our food system, our environment, and the health of our public is yet to be seen. One of the biggest disappointments is that with a Republican-majority Senate, we are likely to see damage done to the EPA’s already limited authority over the livestock industries that pollute our soil, water, and air, and we will probably see that agency’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) systematically dismantled. The political pressure from anti-regulatory forces on the USDA and the FDA is also likely to render both Read More >
As a panel of scientific experts spoke at Thursday’s Congressional briefings on the misuse of antibiotics in food animal production, a theme emerged: There is no longer any debate.
With evidence that is now irrefutable, the panelists addressed more than 120 Congressional staff and others in the Rayburn House Office Building and the Senate Visitor Center. Each echoed a plain and simple message: The science is clear on two points. First, by inappropriately giving antibiotics to livestock*, we promote the growth of new strains of bacteria that are resistant to existing antibiotics and can infect humans. And, second, that those antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a serious, expensive, and sometimes fatal, risk for humans. The humans at risk, by the way, are not only the humans who eat meat or work with livestock. All humans are at increased risk for infection by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including vegetarians and those who never have and never will set foot near a chicken, turkey, pig, or cow. Read More >
The good news is that the journal Public Health Reports has published a review article acknowledging (not in so few words) that agriculture is one of the major drivers of the antibiotic resistance crisis that is unfolding.
That’s good news because Public Health Reports is both the official journal of the U.S. Public Health Service and is published by the Association of Schools of Public Health. So, it wields some credibility from two angles, government and academia. It’s also a welcome development because in the public health community there is often much more attention paid to overuse of antibiotics in the health care field as a driver of increased antibiotic resistance. Read More >
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. Read More >
Nationwide Poll: 80% of America’s Moms are Concerned About Antibiotic Use in Industrial Food Animal Production
When moms talk you can bet lawmakers listen, not to mention food retailers. That is exactly what the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming is counting on following the release of a nationwide poll of 804 American moms, which found that 80 percent are concerned that food animals produced on industrial farms are being given large amounts of antibiotics. Each of these moms is a registered voter and has kids aged 16 or younger. Not only were most of the moms polled concerned about antibiotic use, more than three-quarters said they would support federal regulations to limit its use in food animals.
No doubt this news has the animal agriculture industry concerned. Despite the warnings from scientists and public health experts of the risks of the low-dose use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry, food animal producers have for years fought proposed federal regulations claiming there is little proof the practice poses a risk to humans. Top leaders of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration disagree with animal producers. Former FDA Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein testified in front of Congress stating the links are undeniable and in a letter to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) the director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, confirmed that the CDC, “feels there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”
More and more research continues to pour in, almost on a daily basis, linking antibiotic-use in intensive food animal production facilities to the growing threat of antibiotic resistant infections in people. Earlier this month, a Pew funded nationwide study of grocery store meats revealed nearly 50 percent of the meat and poultry we buy carries antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and that DNA tests indicate the animals themselves were the primary sources. Read More >
The editors of Scientific American recently encouraged U.S. hog farmers to “follow Denmark and stop giving farm animals low-dose antibiotics.” Sixteen years ago, in order to reduce the threat of increased development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in their food system and the environment, Denmark phased in an antibiotic growth promotant ban in food animal production. Guess what? According to Denmark’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries the ban is working and the industry has continued to thrive. The government agency found that Danish livestock and poultry farmers used 37% less antibiotics in 2009 than in 1994, leading to overall reductions of antimicrobial resistance countrywide.
- Courtesy: Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, July, 2010
Except for a few early hiccups regarding the methods used in weaning piglets, production levels of livestock and poultry have either stayed the same or increased. So how did Danish producers make this transition, and why isn’t the U.S. jumping to follow suit? Like many things in industrial agriculture, the answer is not clear.
If any country knows how to intensively produce food animals, particularly pigs, it is Denmark. In 2008, farmers produced about 27 million hogs. In fact, the Scandinavian country claims to be the world’s largest exporter of pork. Thus Scientific American editors argue that the Danish pork production system should serve as a suitable model to compare to ours. U.S. agriculture economists from Iowa State University agree. In a 2003 report, Drs. Helen Jensen and Dermot Hayes stated that Denmark’s pork industry is “…at least as sophisticated as that of the United States… and is therefore a suitable market for evaluating a ban on antibiotic growth promotants (AGPs).” Read More >
Antibiotics, one of the world’s greatest medical discoveries, are slowly losing their effectiveness in fighting bacterial infections and the massive use of the drugs in food animals may be the biggest culprit. The growing threat of antibiotic resistance is largely due to the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in both people and animals, which leads to an increase in “super-bacteria”. However, people use a much smaller portion of antibiotics sold in this country compared to the amount set aside for food animals. In fact, according to new data just released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), of the antibiotics sold in 2009 for both people and food animals almost 80% were reserved for livestock and poultry. A huge portion of those antibiotics were never intended to fight bacterial infections, rather producers most likely administered them in continuous low-dosages through feed or water to increase the speed at which their animals grew. And that has many public health experts and scientists troubled.
For years scientists concerned about the threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria in food animal production have been trying to figure out just how much antibiotics producers are using each year. The best they could do was come up with rough estimates. That is because the data was never publicly available, until now. Read More >
It is time for some straight talk about the risks of using massive amounts of antibiotics in livestock and poultry. I don’t know one infectious disease expert who would disagree that there are direct links between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in people. Period. If you don’t believe me just ask Rear Admiral Ali Kahn, Assistant Surgeon General and Acting Deputy Director for the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease. Just this summer, during a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Dr. Kahn testified that, “there is unequivocal evidence and relationship between [the] use of antibiotics in animals and [the] transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing adverse effects in humans.”
Knowing this, I continue to be frustrated with the fact that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack does not publically recognize that the industrial food animal production system is a leading contributor to the increase of antibiotic resistance in pathogens that infect people and animals. Earlier this month at a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association meeting, Vilsack reportedly responded to a question about the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) by saying the, “USDA’s public position is, and always has been, that antibiotics need to be used judiciously, and we believe they already are.”
That quote had me scratching my head when I read it in a New York Times Op-Ed a couple of weeks ago. The Times’ editors interpreted the statement as saying Vilsack believes there is no need to change antibiotic use policy among food animal producers. That contradicts the positions of both the FDA and CDC. The Times pointed out that while neither regulatory agency is doing enough to address the problem both, at least, recognize that current antibiotic use should change. Read More >
The principal deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Hugh Auchincloss, notes “success against antimicrobial resistance will require a multifaceted approach that includes increased surveillance, more judicious use of antimicrobial drugs, and increased research on the biology of the microbes mechanisms of resistance, host responses, vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.”
Dr. Auchincloss was responding to a letter sent to Anthony Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, by Keeve Nachman, PhD, MHS, and director of CLF’s Farming for the Future Program, and Robert Lawrence, MD, director, CLF. Nachman and Lawrence wrote to Fauci and Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in June seeking to clarify Congressional testimony concerning the evidence against the use of antibiotics in industrial farm animal production.
In his response, Dr. Auchincloss wrote, “NIAID does find that the overall weight of evidence to date links antibiotic use in food animals with antibiotic resistance in humans.” Legislation on a bill to limit antibiotic use in food animal production, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, is now pending in Congress.
The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric aired yet another report last night detailing the risks associated with feeding antibiotics to farm animals. The report is a follow-up to a series aired in February and reported on here in the LivableFutureBlog. In last night’s report, Couric covers Wedneday’s Congressional hearing held to determine whether or not the feeding of antibiotics to healthy farm animals could pose a significant health risk to humans. This was the third, and final, Congressional hearing on antibiotic resistance. At the hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, a representative of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) finally caught up with the rest of the world—and his peers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—and admitted that the use of antibiotics in farm animal feed is contributing to the growing problem of deadly antibiotic resistance in America.Dr. John Clifford, Deputy Administrator for Veterinary Services for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) read from his previously submitted testimony that the USDA believes it is likely that U.S. use of antibiotics in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of resistance in humans and the animals.
The Center for a Livable Future submitted a written statement to the House Committee. “The Food & Drug Administration recently released a draft “guidance document” that reviewed the evidence linking antimicrobial resistance to food animal production,” Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future wrote. ” FDA concludes, ‘Using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production purposes is not in the interest of protecting and promoting public health.’ FDA clearly supports the conclusions of public health researchers discussed here, and has begun taking action in response to antimicrobial resistance accelerated by animal agriculture. No scientific debate exists on these issues–only political questions remain.
“I commend members for their leadership on this topic, and urge further action to fully prohibit using antimicrobial drugs for growth promotion and prophylaxis. Preserving the efficacy of antimicrobials in human medicine require immediate action, and I urge Congress to move quickly in taking steps to protect the public’s health.”
As reported previously in the LivableFutureBlog, a bill to limit the use of antibiotics–H.R. 1549, Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act–is awaiting committee action.
Many other influential media outlets are giving the issue of antibiotics in animal feed significant coverage. A recent article in DesMoinesRegister.com, “Antibiotics in livestock affects humans, USDA testifies,” notes the “Agriculture Department, which livestock producers have traditionally relied on to advocated for their interests, backed the idea of a link between animal use of antibiotics and human health.”