Saving antibiotics

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by Ben Lilliston | March 17, 2009 • You may have read New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s frightening story about small-town doctor Tom Anderson and his subsequent column on the connection between confined, industrial hog farming and the presence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureaus (MRSA). A recent study found MRSA in 45 percent of hog farmers and 49 percent of hogs tested in Iowa.

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

The cause is believed to be the large amount of antibiotics used in animal feed for healthy animals. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. go to healthy food animals to promote slightly faster growth and to compensate for crowded, stressful conditions at industrial-scale livestock and poultry facilities. Many of these antibiotics are the same that are used to treat people. The more antibiotics are used, the faster bacteria develop a resistance to the antibiotic.

Nearly every major medical organization, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, has called for an end to the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed. Now, it’s time that Congress gets the message.

Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist in Congress, re-introduced “The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMPTA)” this week. The bill requires a regulatory review of antibiotics important to human medicine, such as penicillin and tetracycline, that are also being used as additives to animal feed.

“More and more Americans are dying of superbug infections because antibiotic treatment has failed,” says IATP’s David Wallinga, M.D., and a member of Keep Antibiotics Working. “Overusing antibiotics, whatever the setting, undercuts their effectiveness for when we really need them.”

More than 350 groups support PAMPTA. It’s time for Congress to join the antibiotic-protection chorus.

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