Writing in the New York Times, former FDA Commissioner Donald Kennedy warns that the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock is a major threat to human health.
“More than 30 years ago … we proposed eliminating the use of penicillin and two other antibiotics to promote growth in animals raised for food,” Kennedy writes. “When agribusiness interests persuaded Congress not to approve that regulation, we saw firsthand how strong politics can trump wise policy and good science.
Already in the 1980s, Kennedy notes, scientists knew that the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics to prevent infection in healthy animals and make them grow faster was leading to the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria. To make matters worse, the antibiotics used in animals are largely the same as those used in humans, meaning that when these livestock-produced superbugs infect humans, doctors have few ways to deal with them.
An estimated 90,000 people die from hospital-acquired infections in the United States every year. Seventy percent of these infections are antibiotic resistant.
The livestock industry insists that it needs to use antibiotics to keep its animals healthy. But according to the Union for Concerned Scientists, 70 percent of the antibiotics used in agriculture are given to healthy animals that are only at risk of infection because they are kept in crowded, unsanitary confinement. And after Denmark banned non-therapeutic antibiotic use in the 1990s, the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria in farm animals plummeted, while costs to livestock producers increased only slightly.
In 2005, the United States banned the use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics in poultry. Now the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act has been introduced, which would ban any non-therapeutic antibiotic use in animals unless drug companies could prove there was no risk of contributing to the development of superbugs.
A ban on non-therapeutic antibiotics in agriculture is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Pharmacists Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the American Public Health Association, and the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Sources for this story include: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/18/o….
by David Gutierrez, staff writer