Opponents of antibiotic use in farming sound alarm ahead of hearing

Health experts joined a member of the House Democratic leadership on a conference call Tuesday to stress the human health risks of treating farm animals with antibiotics. The House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee holds a hearing Wednesday on the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, the third in a series of oversight hearings on antibiotic resistance. Rep. Louise Slaughter's (D-N.Y.) bill to restrict the use of antibiotics to treat livestock will be discussed during the hearing.

On the call, experts with the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, the Institute for a Sustainable Future and other groups said 70 percent of antibiotics in the United States are used to promote animal growth and compensate for overcrowding conditions on factory farms. Unfortunately, said Lance Price of Arizona’s Translational Genomics Research Institute, every time an antibiotic is used it loses its effectiveness as more resistant bacteria are created.

Slaughter’s bill, which is opposed by several food industry groups, would protect seven types of antibiotics from being indiscriminately used in animal feed. The bill has 113 co-sponsors.

The bill got a boost last week when the Food and Drug Administration released draft guidance suggesting that excessive use of antibiotics to grow bigger poultry and livestock “poses a serious public health threat.” This week the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees passed a resolution endorsing the bill.

“The use of low doses of human antibiotics in factory farms, given routinely to perfectly healthy farm animals, is a major cause of antibiotic resistance, diminishing the efficacy of antibiotics for human use, creating a growing public health threat of antibiotic resistance,” the statement reads. “These antibiotics, vital to protecting human health for everything from skin infections to salmonella to bacterial pneumonia, should always be administered judiciously.”

Slaughter, a microbiologist by training, added that she hopes the bill “will also impress upon physicians” that it’s equally “foolish” for them to prescribe antibiotics for common illnesses.