A bipartisan group of senators re-introduced a bill late last week aimed at preserving the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by limiting their use in food animal feed. In the face of the rising threat of antibiotic resistance, public health experts and activists have pushed for regulation to limit the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
Recent estimates indicate around 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to food animals.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the primary sponsor of The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, otherwise known as PAMTA, reintroduced the measure to address “the rampant overuse of antibiotics in agriculture that creates drug-resistant bacteria, an increasing threat to human beings.”
“The effectiveness of antibiotics for humans is jeopardized when they are used to fatten healthy pigs or speed the growth of chickens,” said Senator Feinstein. “This is a basic food safety initiative that would phase out the misuse of these drugs so that food in supermarkets across America will not spread strains of drug-resistant bacteria.”
Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Jack Reed (D-RI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), all collaborated on the legislation.
According to Feinstein’s office, in 2010, the senator was contacted by the Don family of Ramona, California. Their son, Carlos, “a bright and athletic 12-year old,” became gravely ill with an infection while at summer camp and did not respond to antibiotics.
“It took doctors 48 hours to find a medication that could kill the Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, that had infected his body. By that time, Carlos’ lungs, kidneys, liver, intestine and heart had failed. With only some brain activity left, Carlos lost his life because the antibiotics that hospitals have relied on for 80 years no longer worked,” said Feinstein’s office in a statement late last week.
“No parent should ever undergo the heartbreak and the tragedy that the Don’s went through,” said Feinstein. “My bill makes important changes to the use of antibiotics and ensures that operations on a farm do not negatively impact the health and well being of families across the nation.”
The bill Feinstein is championing, PAMTA, mirrors a bill introduced by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist serving in Congress. The legislation:
— Phases out the non-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics in livestock;
— Requires new applications for animal antibiotics to demonstrate the use of the antibiotic will not endanger public health;
— Does not restrict the use of antibiotics to treat sick livestock or to treat pets.
“PAMTA will limit the agricultural use of seven types of antibiotics that have been identified by the Food and Drug Administration as critically important in human medicine to ensure that antibiotic-resistance is not inadvertently accelerated,” according to Feinstein’s office.
The Senate version of the legislation has 17 cosponsors and the House version has 60. Slaughter has been introducing a version of the bill since 2007.
The animal agriculture industry maintains that antibiotics are a critical tool for preventing disease and promoting animal health and welfare, casting doubt on the link between the sector’s use of antibiotics and human health issues.