Food policy and animal welfare are rife with overlap, but nowhere is this intersection more urgent than the escalating public health crisis stemming from the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

An incredible 70-80% of antibiotics used in the United States are administered to farm animals, and it’s not because they’re inherently likely to get sick; instead, these drugs are fed to cows, pigs and chickens to compensate for the inhumane, overcrowded, and poor conditions that define their daily lives. Such practices are a big problem – not just for the animals, who are forced to live in continual distress, but for humans, too, who are increasingly at risk for antibiotic-resistant infections.

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Scientists around the world warn that rampant overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture is contributing to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. The Centers for Disease Control report that, each year in the United States, around two million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and around 23,000 die from these illnesses. Internationally, deaths from overuse of antibiotics total around 700,000 annually. It’s so bad that last month, the United Nations called antibiotic resistance “the greatest and most urgent global risk,” and recent findings of drug-resistant staph bacterium MRSA on poultry meat, as well as drug-resistant E. coli in pigs and humans around the world, underscore the urgency we face in dealing with this looming and imminent threat.

The importance of this issue brings the two of us together from the connected but often siloed worlds of food and animal advocacy. It’s also what brought us to New Jersey this week, and to one critical congressional race.

At the UN meeting this September, the assembly signed a declaration to address antibiotic resistance, but it will take action at all levels of government to properly deal with the issue, including here at home where the pushback is strong. Right now agribusiness interests in some states are working overtime to effectively inoculate themselves from any kind of legislative or regulatory oversight, including efforts to address the antibiotics issue. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, agricultural trade groups are working to stop legislation like the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1552) and the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance (PAR) Act (S. 621), which would phase out the routine, non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals.

We must elect legislators at all levels of government who will work to address this issue before it is too late. That’s why our organizations recently joined forces to canvass in support of Josh Gottheimer to represent New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District. Josh has committed to support legislation to address the overuse of antibiotics in factory farms, and has pledged to work to provide more humane treatment for farm animals, as well as mitigate cruelty to animals on a broader scale. He brings the kind of forward-looking, pragmatic idealism we need to confront these issues and deal with them – while we still can.

The contrast with Gottheimer’s opponent, Rep. Scott GarrettErnest (Scott) Scott GarrettManufacturers support Reed to helm Ex-Im Bank Trump taps nominee to lead Export-Import Bank Who has the edge for 2018: Republicans or Democrats? MORE, could not be greater. A seven-term congressman, Garrett has made it his business to slash funding for food inspections and FDA programs that identify unsafe food. He’s voted against measures to encourage the development of new antibiotics and opposed legislation that would prevent financial incentives from encouraging antibiotic resistance. He has consistently received failing scores on the National Food Policy Scorecard over the past five years and has one of the worst animal welfare records in Congress, earning a “0” on the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s 2015 Humane Scorecard. He has taken regular anti-animal positions as a legislator, opposing a bill to prohibit animal fighting and another to establish a national policy of including pets and service animals in disaster planning (both passed the U.S. House of Representatives nearly unanimously).

NJ-05 is just one race among many critical contests across the country, but it exemplifies the need for new blood in Washington to tackle the looming crisis in food and agriculture. It’s time for a change. Antibiotics should be used to treat illness, not to compensate for unsanitary conditions; legislators should work for the health of their constituents, not for the interests of agribusiness. 

Wayne Pacelle is executive vice president of Humane Society Legislative Fund. Tom Colicchio is a national food advocate, chef and co-founder of Food Policy Action. Endorsements made by Humane Society Legislative Fund and Food Policy Action, www.foodpolicyaction.org, are not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.