On a day of advocacy sponsored by the Pew Foundation and the American Academy of Pediatrics Dr. Whisnant was in Washington, DC. Meetings with the FDA, staff of Senator Claire McCaskill, staff of Senator Roy Blunt and Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson were arranged to allow us to directly express our thoughts. The purpose was to tell our story and concerns about the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in food animal production.
Antibiotics are the miracle cure of modern medicine. In the last 4-5 decades these drugs can mean the difference between life and death when humans battle a bacterial infection. Yet, we are throwing this miracle away with the overuse and misuse of these drugs as we create an environment for the development of superbugs resistant to these essential antibiotics. Today more people die from antibiotic-resistant diseases than from AIDS. Yet, it is not being taken seriously as an important public health concern.
In July 2010 the FDA, USDA, CDC testified before congress that there was a definitive link between the routine, non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics in food animal production and the crisis of antibiotics resistance in human medicine. As a result the FDA issued a set of guidelines in April that addressed the issue and is inviting public comment during this current period.
I applaud this first step; but it is really a baby step. First of all, according to the guideline draft, any regulation would be voluntary. Second, the guidelines contain major loopholes stating while antibiotics should not be used as a growth promotion they can be used as a preventative treatment. So, industrial animals raised with the stress of transportation, exposure to other animals, filthy conditions, and lack of shelter in cold or heat and fed a hot diet of grain that causes inherent problems such as liver abscesses may be given antibiotics to prevent them breaking with disease. The guidelines also suggest that the use of antibiotics be placed under the supervision of a veterinarian. Though this would help many vets are a part of the industry and I do not see much help in curtailing their use from that guideline.
Regulations that rely too heavily on the drug industry and industrial animal production industry to act voluntarily in the best interest of consumers are questionable in being effective.
I have a strong opinion here as I have experience from both sides of the fence. Yet, with pasture rotation in grassfed beef production, pasture pork production and pasture poultry I know that healthy animals can be raised without antibiotics. Raising beef, pork and poultry in this way makes me as a producer feel good about the food we produce. As you rotate animals to clean pasture you leave behind pathogens and parasites that might cause problems in confinement. These bacteria and parasites are killed through the natural effects of the sun and weathering so when then animals return to that pasture after a rest it has been naturally cleaned and is free of any bugs. We have not used antibiotics in years, however, I would not hesitate to treat a sick animal. Yet, we take any antibiotic treated animals out of our program which is a never-ever protocol.
I urge you to read these guidelines for yourself and weigh in with your comments. http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FDA-2011-D-0889-0002
So, what is the solution? I do not believe that more regulation from the government is the answer. In my mind, heavy regulation would be expensive and nearly impossible to monitor. As long as the industry chooses to raise confinement animals they will continue to see the indiscrimination use of antibiotics as a crutch they can’t do without. I just don’t think that regulation from the top down will solve the problem.
However, there is hope and the solution lies with me and you. Consumer demand is a powerful motivator of industry. If from the grassroots up we, as consumers, demand protein without antibiotics and are willing to pay a bit more for it then the industry itself will move to accommodate that demand. So, offer your comments, talk to your legislators and ask you retailers for protein raised without antibiotics.
• You Tube – A mother’s fight against antibiotic resistance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzZj1T8oxpM
• ABC News – How cheap meat practices beef up superbugs like MRSA http://abcnews.go.com/Health/moms-doctors-aim-mrsa-superbugs/story?id=16352562#.T7O8Dui0z0c
• Huffington Post – Supermoms against superbugs targets antibiotic use on farms as factor in drug-resistant infections http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/supermoms-against-superbugs-antibiotic-resistance_n_1516520.html
• Wired – Mothers, farmers and chefs against antibiotic mis-use http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/05/mothers-antibiotics/
• Pew & AAP Press Release: PR Newswire – “Supermoms against superbugs” take Washington by storm http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/supermoms-against-superbugs-take-washington-by-storm-151518955.html
• Food Safety News – ‘Supermoms against Superbugs’ take their message to Washington http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/05/supermoms-against-superbugs-take-their-message-to-washington/
• Kansas City InfoZone – Mothers’ group advocate stricter guidelines for antibiotic use in food animals http://www.infozine.com/news/stories/op/storiesView/sid/51815/
• UPI – ‘Superbugs’ created by U.S. cheap meat http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2012/05/15/Superbugs-created-by-US-cheap-meat/UPI-18211337127587/?spt=hs&or=hn