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 >
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, confirms that the CDC “feels there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.” Frieden offered the CDC’s position in his response to a letter from Keeve Nachman, PhD, MHS, and director of CLF’s Farming for the Future Program, and Robert Lawrence, MD, director. Lawrence and Nachman sent the letter to Frieden and Anthony Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, last June seeking to clarify Congressional testimony concerning the evidence against the use of antibiotics in industrial farm animal production.
Frieden noted the multiple North American studies that show the links between antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. “In addition,” he said, “a strong body of evidence from Europe demonstrates that antibiotic use in animals is linked with antibiotic resistance in humans. We have thoroughly reviewed these studies and have found them to be well-designed and rigorous, and to establish a clear link between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”
Lawrence and Nachman commended the position officially stated by the CDC. “We are gratified that the CDC recognizes the scientific connections between the inappropriate and overuse of antibiotics in food animal production and antibiotic resistance in humans, and pledge to continue to work closely with the agency, regulators, and policymakers to address the problem. A number of studies supported by the CLF and by others clearly establish the direct causal link between use of low dose antibiotics in feed or water for growth promotion and the emergence of ever-more antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that are important human pathogens.” 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 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.
Congressional testimony by two high-ranking government officials in April revealed some misconceptions about the mounting evidence over the use of antibiotics in industrial farm animal production and links to antibiotic resistance in humans.
To clarify the case, Keeve Nachman, PhD, MHS, and director of CLF’s Farming for the Future Program, and Robert Lawrence, MD, director of CLF, wrote to Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Anthony Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Both Frieden and Fauci provided testimony before the Subcommittee on Health of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, the second of three hearings examining antibiotic resistance. A third committee hearing on Antibiotic Resistance and the Use of Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture” was held July 14.
“We reviewed with great interest your testimony and Q&A session,” they wrote. “What we’ve found in our review of the transcript underscores the need for the public health community to ensure that findings of our research are effectively and accurately communicated with those responsible for legislative and regulatory policy.” Read More >
There aren’t exactly celebrities in the field of public health, but a few of the biggest names are in Atlanta this week for the National Environmental Public Health Conference (NEPHC). For one, Thomas Frieden, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control, got a rock star reception when he addressed the 1,100 conference attendees primarily from academia, nonprofit organizations and government entities on Monday.
Frieden, formerly the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health, was recently appointed by the Obama administration to head the CDC, based on his successes in New York. Menu labeling laws, trans fat bans, increased cigarette taxes and smoke-free bars and restaurants all were enacted on his watch (with the support of his former boss Mayor Mike Bloomberg, himself a champion of public health). In Frieden, it’s clear we have not only an advocate for environmental health, but also a skillful leader who understands the policy process and the best strategies for achieving meaningful changes.
Other representatives from federal agencies spoke about their efforts to reduce potentially harmful chemical exposures in food, air and water. The deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, spoke of her desire for a more regional food system and improved food safety and school nutrition standards. She even mentioned the agency’s commitment to organic produce, showcased at an organic garden at the USDA headquarters in Washington. Hmmm, I wonder if USDA got the same backlash from the pesticide industry that Michelle Obama received after planting her organic garden at the White House? Read More >