More than 150 scientists and 50 farmers came out this week in support of stricter limits on antibiotics used in animal agriculture as part of a broader effort to tackle the “health crisis” caused by growing antibiotic resistance.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized a voluntary guidance for farmers on the “judicious” uses of antibiotics in agriculture and asked veterinary drug makers to voluntarily phase out medically important drugs from being available over the counter — but public health advocates have not relented in their calls for stronger action on the issue. According to the most recent estimates, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used to raise food animals and many of these drugs are the same ones used in human medicine.
Keeping Antibiotics Working coordinated the release of the statements, signed by scientists and farmers, on a Wednesday press call with Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a microbiologist who has fiercely advocated for a ban on subtherapeutic antibiotic usage in food animal production.
In their statement, scientists from the leading universities and research institutions discussed the current science on antibiotic resistance and criticized the slow, voluntary nature of federal action to reduce agriculture’s contribution to the problem.
“While the U.S. medical establishment is making strides in reducing unnecessary antibiotic use, the agricultural community is not keeping pace,” reads the statement, noting that both human medicine and animal agriculture are contributing factors. “The use of antibiotics for whatever purpose over time creates drug‐resistant strains of bacteria, thwarting successful treatment of infectious diseases. So, antibiotics should be used only when necessary.”
The animal health industry and major animal agriculture interest groups argue that they support judicious use of antibiotics in food animal production and that the drugs are key to an efficient, affordable, safe food supply. They contend that there is very little, if any, direct link between drug use on farms and the superbugs causing health problems in people.
The statement put out by scientists disagrees. They say animal agriculture has largely ignored the hundreds of scientific research articles that have showed that overuse in both humans and animals is linked to human diseases that are increasingly difficult to treat with antibiotics.
According to the scientists, the strongest link between agricultural overuse and human health is recurring foodborne illness caused by resistant strains of Salmonella and Campylobacter. Recent research has also linked animal agriculture to resistant E. coli infections and methicillin‐resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections.
“We strongly urge an immediate end to the imprudent use of antibiotics in animal agriculture and call on the FDA and Congress to work together to make that happen,” concluded the document, which was signed by Donald Kennedy, Ph.D., of Stanford University and former editor-in-chief of Science, Stuart B. Levy, M.D., of Tufts University of Medicine and the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, Keeve Nachman, Ph.D, of Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, and more than 150 other doctors, microbiologists, and researchers.
The farmers and ranchers took a slightly different approach in their statement, explaining the issue from a more community- and small business-focused perspective.
“We believe the imprudent use of antibiotics not only renders antibiotics less effective or ineffective for sick farm animals, it also threatens public health and the safety of our nation’s food supply,” read the statement. “We are concerned for the health of our customers, our neighbors, our employees, and our own families.”
They argue that their farms and ranches prove that it is “not only possible but actually economically viable to produce meat, dairy products, and eggs that are safe to eat without continually dosing animals with drugs they don’t need.” The statement noted that operations can avoid the overuse of antibiotics though sound husbandry practices.
“Many studies indicate that consumers are likely to come into contact with these dangerous bacteria through the meat they buy in their supermarket,” continues the statement. “News reports of such infections undermine consumer confidence in the safety of meat, poultry and dairy products. We only have to look at American consumers’ responses to recent disease outbreaks caused by contaminated spinach or apple juice to understand the business implications of outbreaks linked to food products derived from animals. Such outbreaks pose a real danger to our livelihoods.”
The document was signed by Nicolette Hahn Niman, Bill Niman, and Paul Willis of Niman Ranch Pork Company, Russ Kremer of Heritage Acres Foods, Stephen McDonnel of Appleagate, Amanda Grace of Cedarland Farm, and more than 40 others.
This story has been updated with links.© Food Safety News