Another newspaper has weighed into the debate over antibiotics in agriculture. In a piece titled “Meat and ‘superbugs,'” the Washington Post editorial board argued for “a more concerted effort” from industry, regulators and scientists to help combat antibiotic resistance.
The article, published in Sunday’s paper, follows last week’s editorial in the journal Nature and adds to a long list of media outlets that have advocated for stronger limits on antibiotics.
As the Post notes in its editorial, approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are given to food animals — and of that, around two thirds are “similar or identical to drugs used in human medicine.”
“Most of them go to make healthy animals grow faster and stay well, often in difficult and crowded conditions,” read the editorial. “Giving antibiotics to sick animals is proper, but questions continue to be raised about the wisdom of distributing antibiotics in their feed and water supplies to whole flocks and herds for growth-enhancing and prophylactic purposes.”
The Post breezes over the usual argument from both sides: Industry says that there is only a minute chance that antibiotic usage on farms will pose a health risk to humans. Public health advocates and many scientists have argued otherwise for decades.
“[C]ritics are pointing to fresh studies that suggest that antibiotics in agriculture do contribute to the growth of drug resistance and that the bacteria can make their way back to humans through food or the environment.”
The editorial notes Consumer Reports’ latest campaign to pressure retailers into only selling antibiotic-free meat and poultry.
“We think that consumers ought to make their own choices, and for that they need proper labels,” the editorial continues. “But industry and regulators face more complex problems. They can’t just ban antibiotics, which are a vital tool in medicine, and big changes would be needed in agricultural practices in the United States for farming operations to survive without them.”
The Post notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently called on farmers to be “judicious” in their antibiotics use — and the agency’s definition of judicious does not include promoting growth or feed efficiency. Meanwhile, a bill by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to ban subtherapeutic uses of medically-important antibiotics has failed to advance. The European Union enacted similar legislation in 2006.
“The evidence is overwhelming that bacteria are evolving in ways that make many antibiotic drugs less useful,” adds the editorial. “Overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is not the only reason, but it is a significant part of the equation.”