Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist in Congress, introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, or PAMTA, on Thursday for the fourth time since 2007. The bill would ban non-therapeutic uses of medically important antibiotics in food animal production.
The announcement comes just two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a dire warning about antibiotic resistance infections that are becoming nearly impossible to treat. While animal agriculture uses the majority of antibiotics sold in the United States, exactly what role the sector plays in the development of increasingly prevalent superbugs is still hotly debated.
The latest version of the bill has two updates. The legislation now covers cephalosporins, bringing the total to eight classes of medically important antibiotics that would be banned from so called non-therapeutic uses. The measure also clarifies what is considered non-therapeutic “to ensure that any use of medically important antibiotics outside of treatment of a sick animal is not permitted,” according to Slaughter’s office.
Rep. Slaughter said she added cephalosporins in response to the most recent NARMS Retail Meat Survey data, which showed that over the past decade there has been a significant increase cephalosporin resistance, especially on chicken and turkey products. According to NARMS, cephalosporin resistance rose in chicken breasts (10 to 34.5 percent) and ground turkey (8.1 to 16.3 percent) isolates from 2002 to 2010.
“That’s a major jump,” said Slaughter in an interview with Food Safety News. (This trend was a key factor in FDA’s recent decision to limit the off-label uses of cephalosporins in food animals.)
The congresswoman also explained why the bill now clarifies what is considered non-therapeutic: “We want to make sure it’s understood that sick animals need to be treated, but we think any use of the important antibiotics, out of the eight classes we’re trying to save, outside of treating a sick animal should not be permitted,” she said.
Slaughter is hoping that Congress and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration take much more forceful action to address what she and many leading health organizations believe is one of the most pressing public health threats.
PAMTA is endorsed by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences and infectious disease doctors. In all, nearly 450 outside groups have endorsed the measure.
“If you were to add up all these groups – the AMA, the scientists, and everyone these groups represent, it’s a large part of the population,” said Slaughter.
FDA’s strategy under fire
Congresswoman Slaughter has been loud and clear with her criticism of FDA’s new approach to reducing non-therapeutic, or non-judicious antibiotic use in food animal production. The agency announced last year it will publish a rule asking drug makers to voluntarily remove their growth promotion uses from their labels and to bring the drugs under veterinary supervision. If the approach doesn’t yield results, the agency may consider other regulatory options in a few years.
Slaughter and some consumer and health groups don’t think the plan goes far enough.
“We’re going to pass this bill,” said Slaughter. “We have to do it and we’re trying our best to get the FDA to wake up. They need to end their listening sessions – they’ve been listening for long enough. We know for a fact that the industry won’t voluntarily give these up – we know from years of trying that that’s not going to work.”
The congresswoman told Food Safety News that before she got to Congress she believed that the FDA was the gold standard for health policy.
“It isn’t,” she said this week. “If you think all they’re going to do is to protect your health – don’t think that.”
One of the biggest hurdles to solving the current problem, according to Slaughter, is that not enough people are aware of how antibiotic resistance can impact them.
“More people know that 32 oz sodas were banned in New York City than know that antibiotics they’ve counted on their entire life may no longer work for them anymore,” she said.
Slaughter’s office has just begun the process of re-enlisting old cosponsors and asking for new support, so it’s not clear how much support the bill will have this Congress. In 2011, the bill logged 92 cosponsors in the House and a companion bill had 7 cosponsors in the Senate, but the legislation faces fierce opposition from livestock groups, the veterinary drug industry and agricultural interests in many states and congressional districts.© Food Safety News