During Wednesday’s third-annual Supermoms Against Superbugs advocacy day in Washington, D.C., the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming brought together dozens of parents, doctors and farmers for a briefing on antibiotic use in food animal production. “Since I saw you last year, I’ve got some good news and some bad news to report,” said U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who opened the event with some comments. “The good news is, in the past year, there has been an absolute explosion of research and press coverage and public awareness about the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs,” she said.

From left: Rep. Louise Slaughter, Everly Macario, Dr. Daniel Uslan, Julie James Ott, Russ Kremer 
Credit: Eva Russo, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Slaughter also referred to the bill passed by the California Senate which would ban the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. The downside, she said, is that the bill gives industry three years to comply. “The bad news is the crisis is getting so much worse and the pace is quickening,” she said. One of the panelists speaking after Slaughter was Russ Kremer, a Missouri hog farmer who contracted a dangerous antibiotic-resistant infection from his pigs. “I actually created a superbug on my farm,” he said. In the 1980s, Kremer embraced the practice of using sub-therapeutic antibiotics, and he fed his pigs constant low levels of penicillin throughout their lives. But, in 1989, one of his boars gored Kremer’s knee and the injury became infected with strep. After weeks of trying various antibiotics, his leg only got worse and the disease became systemic. Ultimately, after comparing the situation with his leg to serology reports of strep infections in his hogs, he found one antibiotic in the cephalosporin family to which the bacteria was not resistant. His doctors tried the human form of the drug and Kremer recovered in two days. “While in that hospital bed, I was very remorseful about what I did, but instead of quitting, I plotted a course to change the style of my agricultural practices,” Kremer said. He told the group that the changes he made — including cutting out the non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics —  led to lower-than-average mortality rates and better immune systems in his herd, plus savings of more than $16,000 in veterinary and health care costs the first year. “There are a lot of critics, and people got to know that this isn’t just about raising completely antibiotic-free,” Kremer said. “I believe in preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics, and I may be the biggest proponent of antibiotics in this room because it saved my life.” The panel also included Daniel Uslan, an infectious disease physician and director of the University of California-Los Angeles Antimicrobial Stewardship Program; Julie Ott, a Colorado farmer who raises animals without antibiotic overuse, and Everly Macario, an Illinois woman who lost her son 10 years ago to a strain of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Macario’s one-and-a-half-year-old son, Simon, died suddenly, less than 24 hours from when his symptoms began. At the time, neither she nor her husband had ever heard of MRSA. Since then, it’s been her goal to make the term “MRSA” as familiar as “AIDS” and to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance. “A lot of people are questioning the link between what’s going on at the farm to antibiotic resistance among humans, but there’s more science there,” Macario told Food Safety News. “I’m the person that can show that this is a direct consequence from this crisis. People are dying.” Supermoms Against Superbugs is calling for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to eliminate the use of antibiotics for both growth promotion and disease prevention, for veterinarians to meaningfully oversee their use, and for Congress to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) and the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA). The group also wants to see bills passed to broaden FDA’s authority to collect more data from drug companies and food producers. The advocacy day came a week after the World Health Organization (WHO) released a global report finding that surveillance of antibiotic resistance is generally “neither coordinated nor harmonized, compromising the ability to assess and monitor the situation.” The Delivering Antimicrobial Transparency in Animals Act (DATA) and the Antimicrobial Data Collection Act (ADCA) have been introduced in the House and Senate, respectively. Citing the 14 years it took her to get genetic nondiscrimination passed, Slaughter said that “we haven’t got that kind of time” with antibiotics. However, she declared her persistence and said that she hopes PAMTA will be “ready to go” by next year’s briefing. During his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1945, Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, warned that overusing antibiotics, particularly at low doses, could lead to widespread resistance. In referencing this speech, Slaughter said, “I’m not sure that Dr. Fleming ever envisioned the biggest threat to antibiotics in the future would come from the factory farms.”