Congressional staff heard from a panel of experts yesterday on the public health hazards of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and the increase in antibiotic-resistant pathogens, two public health issues that are intimately tied to the safety and sustainability of the food system.

“A key contributor to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the overuse of drugs on industrial farms,” according to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, which co-hosted the briefing with U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Antibiotics important to human health are fed to food animals at low doses, often over long periods of time, creating a breeding ground for new and resistant bacteria and a potentially hazardous workplace.”

antibiotic-resistance.jpgRepresentative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the primary sponsor of legislation aimed at addressing antibiotic resistance, invited the panelists to brief staffers on the myriad of public health risks associated with CAFOs and the routine use of antibiotics in agriculture.

Slaughter, chairwoman of the powerful House Rules Committee–and the only microbiologist in Congress–has become a champion for those concerned about antibiotic resistance. 

Slaughter introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, commonly known as PAMTA, in the House in early 2007, and again last March. The bill would require that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), deny any new animal antibiotic drugs unless the federal government is certain the drugs will not contribute to antimicrobial resistance. 

The bill would also ban the routine, or nontherapeutic, use of antibiotics in food-producing animals–a widespread practice in animal agriculture. 

Michael Blackwell, a veterinarian and former senior FDA official who spoke at the briefing, said the reasons to ban the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animals are clear. 

“We know we cannot feed [food animals] antibiotics at these levels and everything will be okay,” said Blackwell, who emphasized the overwhelming scientific evidence tying antibiotic use to antimicrobial resistance. “It’s not okay.”