This week marks the fifth annual “Get Smart About Antibiotics Week,” so named by the federal government in 2008. Before it’s over, a dialogue could break out between urban consumers and food animal producers over agriculture’s use of antibiotics and growing concerns about antibiotic resistance.
First, a quick look at a couple of the main players.
Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, runs a “Meat Without Drugs” campaign, asking retailers to stop selling meat and poultry raised on diets that include antibiotics. It blames antibiotics used in animal agriculture for both drug-resistant superbugs and making antibiotics less effective for people.
The 12-year-old National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA), based in Colorado Springs, CO, represents animal agriculture in the U.S. on issues like antibiotic resistance. It’s putting on a national conference this week in Columbus, Ohio because it says it wants to “begin the dialogue to a one health approach to antimicrobial use and resistance.”
Dr. Leah Dorman, director of food programs in the Center for Food and Animal Issues at the Ohio Farm Bureau, says the one health approach is like a triangle with the three points being public health, animal health and environmental health.
“You know, whether it’s disease, whether it’s antibiotic use, you cannot just focus on one, because its affects the other two,” Dorman said. “So it’s very important we look at this (antibiotic resistance) issue very holistically and think about it in all three of those aspects.”
At the Nov. 13-15 conference in Columbus, Dorman said the nation’s agricultural community will be “collaborating in a conversation about antibiotic use and resistance and we are encouraging those additional perspectives so we can begin working towards that path forward.”
For its part, Consumers Union marked antibiotics week by renewing its demands for reductions in the use of antibiotics in food animal production. It says overuse of antibiotics on the farm is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance, a worldwide public health threat.
CU also calls on doctors and patients to work together to improve antibiotic use, an acknowledgement of the human role in antibiotic resistance.
“Doctors and patients need to be much more careful about how they use antibiotics if we’re going to preserve their power,” said Jean Halloran, CU’s director of food policy.
Halloran said it is also time to “get smart about the overuse of antibiotics in food animals.”
“It’s time to stop the daily feeding of antibiotics to healthy food animals which makes these life-saving medications less effective for people,” she said.
CU collected half a million signatures on a petition asking Trader Joe’s to stop selling meat and poultry “raised on antibiotics,” but so far has not gotten a meeting with the retailer on the issue.
It also supports legislation sponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) to generate more data on antibiotic use on farms.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that it wants the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in animal agriculture phased out over the next three years on a voluntary basis.
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 said “there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”
A White Paper developed out of last year’s NIAA symposium does not necessarily dispute that link, but says the use of antibiotics in food animal production is a complex issue that is often over-simplified.
CU spokesman Michael McCauley told Food Safety News that his organization does not have anyone attending the Columbus meeting. However, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) is sponsoring a series of panel discussions in New York City on Thursday and CU’s Halloran will participate in discussion on antibiotics in animal agriculture there.© Food Safety News