Consumers Union: 'Superbugs' in livestock becoming 'national health crisis'

In addition to sending letters to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — asking them to develop stricter food safety regulations and antibiotic dosing rules — the Consumers Union also threw its support behind two bills making their way through Congress.

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Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) reintroduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) last month, which would give the FDA more leverage in regulating antibiotics for animals and phasing out antibiotic use in healthy, food-producing animals.

“When our limited supply of antibiotics is used indiscriminately and without care, there are public health consequences. It is time to put a stop to big agribusinesses doling out pharmaceuticals to healthy animals just because it is better for their bottom line,” Slaughter’s office said.

Penicillin and other drugs are often mixed into food or water to prevent cows, chicken, pigs and other livestock from getting sick in crowded pens. The industry also uses it to add on weight to the animals before they are killed.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association says there is already a strict regulatory framework in place from both the USDA and the FDA.

“It’s important for consumers to know that by law, no meat sold in the United States is allowed to contain antibiotic residues that violate the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) standards. [PAMTA] ignores the many voluntary and regulatory actions already in place to ensure safe use of antibiotics in livestock,” the industry group says on its website.

It continues, “Antimicrobial resistance worldwide is a concern for producers, researchers and the veterinary and medical community. A tremendous amount of international research has been done on the topic and to date there is ZERO scientific evidence that use of antimicrobials in livestock causes antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans.”

A recent study by Consumer Reports, however, found that 90 percent of more than 250 samples of ground turkey tested positive for dangerous bacteria, including e. coli, salmonella and staphylococcus.

Of that 90 percent, almost all the samples were resistant to at least one antibiotic – more than half resisted three or more classes of drug.

The FDA issued “voluntary guidelines” for the industry last year, warning them that “non-judicious” — or non-medical — use of antibiotics could cause drug-resistant diseases in animals, which could be passed on to the humans who eat them.

Livestock producers can currently buy these drugs over-the-counter, which the agriculture agency claims is needed in this modern food-producing environment.