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 >
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.
This past weekend, I witnessed hundreds of volunteers working in a very tangible way to take back the food system for a community. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” This was a stride. Two high schools in Richmond, Calif in the span of one weekend built urban school farms at their respective school sites. Supported by Urban Tilth http://www.urbantilth.org, those students, teachers, parents and community volunteers laid the infrastructure and built the capacity to grow significant amounts of local produce in Richmond.
These are farms that will not just change the physical environment of the schools and the community, but significantly change the way students think about food. This year, close to 30 students at Richmond High are enrolled in the second pilot year of an Urban Agriculture and Food Systems class, what we call Urban Ag Institutes, and those students will grow from seed thousands of pounds of produce, that will feed families from their high school. Last year, the program had a small but impressive 10 family CSA box (community supported agriculture) and this year with the expansion of the farm at the high school, they hope to do even more. Article on RHS program
Just as exciting, across town at Kennedy High School, an even larger farm with thirteen 100 ft. rows were put in behind the football field. Say bye-bye to the school garden and say hello to the school ‘farm!’ Imagine the depth of knowledge that will come as those students learn to manage a working urban farm. Growing seasons, soil, pests, nutrition, food systems, marketing, community food security, advocacy, organics, cooking, and permaculture are just some of the topics that we will engage with students in the program.
I interviewed Park Guthrie, the Urban Ag Club teacher at Kennedy (slated to become an official Urban Ag Institute in fall of 2010) and his words speak volumes. I wanted to know how he saw this program and these farms fitting into the food movement and the local food system of Richmond. With the interwovenness of the American food system, was this solving access issues, food security, or generating behavioral change? Park replied, “The truth is, I really think it all goes back to Wendell Berry. It’s the most direct way to address a relationship problem. It’s a relationship problem imbedded in so many facets of our culture. The alienation between food, nature, natural cycles and community health. I guess I feel like a production focused Urban Ag Institute Program solves that relationship problem. It puts those teenagers in a completely new relationship with food, land, community and a general sense of power. I think it does tangibly improve the Richmond food system, but maybe the most important way it affects the food system is in the relationship these teenagers have with food.” Read More >
The Russians are helping build political will for passage of PAMTA! How has this happened and should we allow foreign influence in our domestic policy to preserve antibiotics for medical treatment? In this case the answer should be a resounding yes since industrial agriculture in the U.S. appears more responsive to the needs and desires of the export market than to the health and safety of the American people. Tom Johnston recently reported on Meatingplace.com that Russia removed three U.S. pork-processing plants from “its list of eligible exporters for findings of oxytetracycline and salmonella exceeding that country’s standards,” as reported by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on November 30, 2009. Since December 7 Seaboard Foods’ Guymon, OK slaughterhouse, Farmland Foods’ Denison, IA and Crete, NE pork processing plants can no longer export pork products to Russia. Less than a week later (12/10/09) Reuters reported Russia had widened its ban on U.S. pork imports to 13 U.S. pork plants, including seven Smithfield-owned pork processing facilities. The number of U.S. pork plants still approved for export to Russia, the fifth largest market for U.S. pork, is now down to six from a high of about 40 earlier this year.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office in Washington expressed concern that “current Russian standards are not based on international standards and do not have a scientific justification.” This sounds like Pork Council language to those of us who have witnessed the distortion and manipulation of scientific data by the industry. Read More >
Today’s New York Times carries an editorial, “Farms and Antibiotics,” in support of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, calling for withdrawal of FDA approval of nontherapeutic use of antimicrobial drugs critical to human medicine. Reprinted below is a letter submitted to the Times by the Center for a Livable Future:
We applaud the New York Times for drawing attention to the critical issue of the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in factory farms (“Farms and Antibiotics,” July 23, 2009).
We would like to clarify that PAMTA (The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act) calls for withdrawal of FDA approval of nontherapeutic use of antimicrobial drugs critical to human medicine, defining “nontherapeutic” as follows:
The term ‘nontherapeutic use’, with respect to a critical antimicrobial animal drug, means any use of the drug as a feed or water additive for an animal in the absence of any clinical sign of disease in the animal for growth promotion, feed efficiency, weight gain, routine disease prevention, or other routine purpose.
The Times and the PAMTA definition of nontherapeutic use of “routine disease prevention” suggests that administration of antimicrobials for non-routine disease prevention may be warranted.
The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), an academic center that has supported an extensive portfolio of research on antimicrobial use in animal agriculture, maintains that use of antimicrobials in the absence of clinically-observable disease selects for resistant bacteria, and is therefore never warranted. The only permissible administration of antimicrobials in the setting of animal agriculture is on an individual animal basis, under the circumstances of overt disease, and at the direction of a veterinarian.
Your editorial notes industry opposition to the bill, indicating fears that it would make it “much harder for industrial farms to crowd thousands of animals together in confined, inhumane and unhealthy quarters.” No data support concerns that the cessation of antimicrobial use for growth promotion or disease prophylaxis will result in losses to the animal agriculture industry. In fact, a WHO evaluation of the termination of antimicrobial growth promoter usage in Denmark found that cessation of their use led to approximately a one percent increase in cost to swine producers and no net cost to poultry producers. Coupled with evidence (cited in PAMTA) that antimicrobial use in animal production increases antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the environment andresistant bacteria in meat products, ending their routine use will provide a substantial public health benefit.
We also applaud Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, Principal Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, for recognizing the importance of PAMTA.
The relentless increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to the health of the public, and policymakers should move quickly to phase out and ban the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic use in food animal production. PAMTA is a good beginning.
Robert S. Lawrence, MD
Director, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
Keeve E. Nachman, Ph.D.
Science Director, Food Production, Health and Environment, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
Center for a Livable Future Statement on
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).
Washington, D.C. (July 15, 2009) – The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) Director Robert Lawrence, MD, issued the following statement today regarding recent Congressional action on the issue of antibiotic resistance.
“On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives held its first hearing this session on the important issue of antibiotic resistance. The Center for Livable Future (CLF) applauds the leadership of Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and her colleagues to support the increasingly critical public health recommendations put forward in the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1549/S. 619).”
“A panel of experts from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, science and business communities spoke at the hearing about the need to end non-therapeutic use of antibiotics as growth promoters in the production of food animals. The increase we continue to see in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to the health of the public, and policymakers should move to phase out and ban the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic use in food animal production. PAMTA serves to curtail such use, instead saving antibiotics for therapeutic purposes only.”
Read More >
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. Read More >
Check out Chipotle Founder Steve Ells’ write-up in yesterdays Huffington Post. Says Ells, “Many might think that a restaurant chain like ours would not care about this issue. After all, most restaurant companies focus largely on assuring a high-volume food supply, lower production costs, and increasing profits. From an ethical, economic, and public health perspective, pumping animals full of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick is way to cut corners, not a way to forge a sustainable and humane model for food production.
“Federal action to improve the conditions of our factory farms is necessary because these large farms account for the vast majority of meat produced in this country, but their practices carry a number of horrific unintended consequences – from polluting rivers, streams and coastal waters, to air quality problems, and endangering the lives of people by contributing to the proliferation of antibiotic resistant infections. Scientists and public health officials have offered a slew of recommendations to reverse these negative side effects, many of which are presented in a recent Pew Commission report on industrial farm animal production in America.
Ells calls for the public support of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) now before Congress. “I hope that private citizens will support the Act by contacting their local congressional representative. If the legislation passes, it could take as many as two years to phase out this indiscriminate overuse of antibiotics. It’s time to get the process started. Let’s preserve these drugs for the sick animals and humans who need them. Antibiotic use is not a prerequisite to life on the farm, but rather a threat to life itself.”