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Moms Weigh in on Animal Antibiotics

In the ongoing debate over whether or not to regulate the use of antibiotics for food animals, moms fall squarely into the “yes” category.

That’s according to a new study released Tuesday by Pew Charitable Trusts, which is using the research to fuel a campaign featuring mothers who oppose the use of animal antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes.

The survey, commissioned by Pew’s Human Health and Industrial Farming (HHIF), polled more than 800 women whose children are under age 17.  Eighty percent of them said they are concerned about antibiotics being given to food animals on farms; 42 percent said they are “very concerned” about the issue.

The “issue” is the danger that excessive use of antibiotics during animal growth may potentially contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant disease in humans by giving bacteria a chance to develop resistance in feed yards to the same drugs used in clinics.

The debate was called to the forefront again last month when a study revealed the presence of drug-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, on 1 in 4 meat and poultry products sampled from grocery stores around the country. The strains isolated in the study came from the animals themselves rather than from the environment, suggesting that resistance was built up within animals from antibiotics they’d been fed.

According to the survey, not only are moms worried about the potential effects of animal antibiotics, but they support government action to remedy what they see as the dangerous overuse of drugs on animals.

When presented with 7 proposed regulations to control antibiotic use in animals, 78 percent of moms surveyed supported implementing all 7 rules, and 40 percent “strongly favored” all of the measures.

In a final component of the study, moms were asked to read two statements, one supporting the regulation on antibiotics, and one opposing it. After reading the statements, 58 percent said the arguments in support of regulation aligned with their points of view.

And among survey respondents who said they were Republicans, members of a party that generally favors deregulation, a slight majority (56 percent) favored legislation to restrict animal antibiotics.

“When we look at these data, we see a lot of support across party lines. We don’t often see that these days in many public policy issues,” said Alex Bratty, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies and member of the research team, at a press conference.

HHIF intends to use this support to back its new campaign, “Moms for Antibiotic Awareness.” The initiative aims to harness the strength of these mothers’ desires to keep antibiotics working as a protective measure for their children, into a push for change in how these drugs are applied to animals in the United States. 

“There is power in numbers, and this is where mothers come in,” said Dr. Everly Macario, who lost her son to drug-resistant staphylococcus aureus in 2004. Macario is the co-founder of the MRSA Research Center at the University of Chicago.

She says that there are 4 things mothers can do to support the campaign:

— Sign up at saveantibiotics.org

— Demand that supermarkets, shops and schools use meat and poultry raised without the routine use of non-therapeutic antibiotics

— Contact the Food and Drug Administration to influence the agency’s new guidelines on animal antibiotic use, due to come out this June, and

— Support congressional passage of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Louise Slaughter and soon to be introduced into the Senate.

Macario says she is aware that the meat and poultry industries argue there is no definitive proof that using antibiotics on animals is what’s causing the rise in drug-resistant bacteria in humans. However “more than 4 decades of scientific evidence support this link,” she says.

And, she points out, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all testified before Congress, saying scientific evidence points to a link between animal antibiotics and drug-resistant bacteria.

Moms have long been concerned about the rising drug-resistance in pathogens, and the possibility that animal antibiotic use could be contributing to this, according to Bratty.

“They are very much aware of the issue of antibiotic resistance,” she says.

Bratty says the “Moms for Antibiotic Awareness” Campaign will give parents a way to act on an issue they care about.

“…we’ve heard from these moms, ‘Gee, it’s a really big issue but what can I do about it?'” she says. “And now they have a forum and a place where they can take action.”

That action must be swift, according to Macario.

“We are in realistic danger of turning the clock back 100 years to a time when infections could not be treated because antibiotics had not yet been discovered,” she says.

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