The growing threat in our food

Every year, two million Americans acquire bacterial infections during their hospital stay, and 90,000 will die from them. 70 percent of their infections will be resistant to the drugs commonly used to treat the infections. MRSA, one of the most common antibiotic-resistant pathogens, now kills more Americans annually than AIDS.

These drug-resistant bacteria are fueled in part by the use of antibiotics in our food supply, particularly on factory farms.

Currently, seven classes of antibiotics certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as "highly" or "critically" important in human medicine are used in agriculture as animal feed additives.

Despite their importance in human medicine, these drugs are added to animal feed as growth promotants and for routine disease prevention.

If an animal is sick, then by all means we should make it well with the appropriate drugs. But the routine, indiscriminate use of antibiotics on healthy animals is downright dangerous. It would be like a mother sprinkling antibiotics on her child’s cereal every morning to prevent them from getting sick instead of giving them medicine only when they are ill. This dangerous approach to food production exposes bacteria to low dose antibiotics, and allows the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals we eat.

The Food and Drug Administration recently analyzed data on antibiotic usage here in the United States. It paints a grim picture. The FDA confirmed that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold for use in our country are used for food animal production while only 20 percent of antibiotics are sold to address human health.

In addition, they have indicated that 90 percent of antibiotics given to farm animals were sold for use in feed or water.

To curtail the irresponsible use of antibiotics, I introduced HR 965, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). It is designed to ensure that we preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for the treatment of human diseases by limiting their overuse in animals, phasing out the use of the seven classes of medically significant antibiotics that are currently approved for non-therapeutic use in animal agriculture.  

So that they can keep employing irresponsible practices, opponents have attempted to discredit the FDA’s statistics, and my legislation along with it, as based in “junk science.” This simply couldn’t be further from the truth, as scientists and health officials the world over attest.

Over 300 organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture have supported enactment of legislation to phase out non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals.

The National Academy of Sciences has stated that a “decrease in antimicrobial use in human medicine alone will have little effect on the current situation. Substantial efforts must be made to decrease inappropriate overuse in animals and agriculture as well.”
 
The distinguished World Health Organization has unequivocally affirmed that the biggest driver of drug resistance is indeed the “irrational and inappropriate use of antimicrobials.”

I can assure you that there is nothing rational or appropriate about indiscriminately feeding the vast majority of our nation’s antibiotics to healthy animals.

The outbreak in Germany is an urgent wake-up call. We cannot wait to address this issue until it is too late and our medicines have become obsolete. It is time for Congress to stand with scientists and consumers to prevent this looming public health crisis that threatens to move from farms to grocery stores to dinner tables around the country.


More in Energy & Environment

Trade with China isn’t just growing our economy; It’s slowing climate change.

Read more »