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Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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Blog Posts: Antibiotics

April 11th, 2014

Ending the Factory Farm Drug Addiction One City at a Time

Antibiotics Campaign, Cleveland, OH

Clevelanders pose with our cow mascot to send a message to council members.

By Katy Kiefer

This spring, something important is stirring in the movement for good food and healthy families. Food & Water Watch volunteers and allies have passed seven resolutions through city councils across the country, calling on Congress to take action to stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Many more resolutions are in the works. Today, we’re releasing a map to track these resolutions – the grassroots movement to save antibiotics.

Most of us know that doctors should only prescribe antibiotics when we really need them in order to prevent resistance. But many people don’t realize that a whopping 80 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. are used in agriculture, primarily to make animals grow faster in stressful, crowded, filthy factory farms. That’s not the way antibiotics should be used, and it’s resulting in a serious public health crisis.

Food & Water Watch has been advocating for legislation to rein in the abuse of antibiotics on factory farms for years. With little action in Congress, and too little, too late from the FDA, we thought, let’s empower communities to take matters into their own hands. Which is why we’ve launched a nationwide effort to help communities educate and organize at the grassroots level to build support for a national ban on antibiotics abuse.

It all started in Providence, RI, in early February when the first of these resolutions passed. Red Bank, NJ, Cleveland, OH, and Pittsburgh, PA quickly followed. In each city, council members stepped up to take this on and sponsor each resolution, and most passed the same day they were introduced. But we knew it was only a matter of time until the factory farming industry caught wind and started fighting back.

In Seattle, they sent a letter to council members right before the vote, to try to derail passage of their resolution. But after hearing from hundreds of their constituents, Seattle council members did the right thing, and just this week passed the resolution with full support. Seattle’s resolution passed on Monday followed quickly by Madison, WI, on Tuesday and St Paul, MN, on Wednesday. All were passed unanimously – a testament to the power of concerned community members coming together to advocate for commonsense policies.

Despite what Big Ag wants you to think, we don’t need to put up with this dirty, unsustainable system of producing food. An alternative is possible, and it’s necessary. The European Union has banned the irresponsible use of antibiotics on factory farms and the EU hasn’t stopped producing food. We can do the same here in the U.S. and we’re proving it one city at a time. 

If antibiotic resistance has affected you or a loved one, please share your story with us. And if you’re ready to pass a resolution in your town, we’re ready to help. Sign up here!

April 2nd, 2014

If the Drug Companies Love FDA’s New Guidance, Should We?

drug take-back day

Photo by Tom Varco used with permission.

By Sarah Borron

Last week, FDA pronounced success in its voluntary Guidance to Industry #213 on the use of medically important antibiotics in feed for livestock. Every company but one that makes these drugs said they would participate, covering over 99 percent of the affected drugs. If the companies stick to their word, it means that in three years, medically important antibiotics should 1) no longer be used for growth promotion and 2) be used only under the oversight of a veterinarian. Both of these are long overdue first steps, but they still are not enough to stop the overuse of these critically important drugs for a couple of key reasons:

1) Overlap of Use: Giving healthy animals low doses of medically important antibiotics to make them grow faster is a really wasteful use of antibiotics. This practice promotes the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, putting profits ahead of public health. It’s high time this practice ended. Unfortunately, the same practice of giving healthy animals low doses of antibiotics can be done in the name of “disease prevention,” which is still allowed under the new FDA guidance. Of the drugs losing their approvals for growth promotion uses, 63 percent are still approved for disease prevention. So, producers aren’t necessarily going to lose the growth promoting benefit of many of the drugs, even if the purpose of using them is disease prevention. Only 11 percent of the drugs will fully discontinue nontherapeutic uses, any use for a purpose other than disease treatment.

2) Strength of Veterinary Oversight: But what about the veterinary oversight? Won’t that stop the use of antibiotics for routine disease prevention? That’s still unclear. FDA just accepted public comments on the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), which spells out the rules around veterinarians approving the use of antibiotics in feed. It’s possible that the rules will be written in such a way that veterinarian approval can carry on for months at time or for multiple herds or flocks of animals, possibly without the veterinarian ever visiting the farm. There is also an important issue that the FDA needs to address, the shortage of veterinarians in rural areas. While we want to ensure that lack of access to veterinarians for small farms is addressed, we do have to make sure that this doesn’t become an excuse for allowing injudicious uses of antibiotics to continue on large operations.

In three years, we’ll have a better sense of whether FDA’s initiative offers more shine than substance in changing practices. Regardless, to save antibiotics, we.need Congress to pass a complete ban on nontherapeutic uses of antibiotic use in livestock, and you can help us by asking for your members of Congress to support this important legislation here.

March 11th, 2014

How the FDA’s Voluntary Guidance Fails to Curb Antibiotic Misuse in Livestock

Click to enlarge.

By Sarah Borron

Last December, FDA released voluntary guidance to industry (GFI #213) that would limit certain nontherapeutic uses of what the agency deems “medically important” antibiotics in livestock and put those drugs under the guidance of a veterinarian. Currently, many antibiotics are available for livestock producers to use for nontherapeutic reasons and without veterinary oversight. FDA’s action to curb these uses is long overdue.

But that guidance comes with a catch. It only limits the use of medically important antibiotics for promoting faster growth in livestock. Giving livestock low doses of antibiotics necessary to treat human illnesses to make the animals grow faster – all the while creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria in those livestock – is a pretty terrible use of an important resource. However, the FDA guidance still permits low doses of antibiotics to be given to healthy animals as disease prevention. Whether for growth promotion or disease prevention, the result is the same: this practice is creating more bacteria resistant to antibiotics that we need to protect human health.

Food &Water Watch analyzed FDA’s list of over 400 antibiotic drug products affected by GFI #213 to find out just how much overlap exists between growth promotion uses, which are being limited, and prevention uses, which remain unchecked. Each drug has a list of “label indications,” or reasons the drug can be used in certain conditions. Using FDA’s search function and also reading each label, we identified overlapping indications that demonstrate significant loopholes in GFI #213. Read the full article…

February 13th, 2014

ALEC Goes After Your Food

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Anna Meyer

The anti-regulation, pay-to-play group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is infamous for pushing “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, anti-worker and anti-voter legislation, and trying to repeal renewable energy laws. But lately ALEC’s been busy trying to help the Foodopoly maintain its stranglehold on the American food system, despite the fact that it’s making us sick.

ALEC is pushing hard to thwart attempts to rein in antibiotic abuse on factory farms with its Resolution on Animal Antibiotic Use. Their resolution supports the continued overuse of antibiotics for nontherapeutic reasons in livestock feed, a practice that is commonly used to make up for filthy and inhumane living conditions on factory farms and has been linked to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

Continued overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which decrease antibiotics’ effectiveness in fighting infections (read about our campaign to end the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms here). Despite a 2013 Centers for Disease Control report linking superbugs with antibiotic misuse on factory farms and nearly 40 years of medical research including DNA analysis, the ALEC resolution tries to blame the 2 million people who become infected with resistant bacteria and the 23,000 people who die as a result of these infections every year solely on the use of antibiotics in human medicine. Doctors disagree.

The resolution to pad the meat industry’s pocketbooks by perpetuating antibiotic abuse on factory farms is not the only ridiculous resolution to come out of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. The group also promotes widespread use of chemicals with minimal regulation with the Resolution on Chemical Policy Principles and promotes a model bill to take away the right of local governments to regulate genetically engineered crops. ALEC also tried to attack Country of Origin Labels (COOL), which gives consumers more information about where their meat comes from.

Then there’s ALEC’s notorious model bill, the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which has served as inspiration for the many ag-gag bills that have been circulating through state legislatures over the past few years. Ag-gag bills are extremely hazardous for multiple reasons. They shield factory farms from public scrutiny, even though they put animal welfare at risk, and increase risks to food safety and environmental damage.

ALEC’s positions on food would put everyone’s health at risk and allow big food and ag corporations to hide what they are doing. Policy makers at every level of government should be drafting legislation that protects the health and well-being of all citizens, not just the bank accounts of a few rich executives.

Help us hold big food and ag corporations accountable by supporting commonsense legislation that puts people first. Join our list to take action

 

Anna Meyer is a communications intern for Food & Water Watch.

February 12th, 2014

Field Notes: Working to End Abuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms

By Katy Kiefer

A woman in Seattle, WA, holds a sign to express her concern about resistant bacteria bred on factory farms.

For the past several years, awareness about all they ways that factory farms make animals, workers, the environment and consumer sick has been on the rise thanks to movies like Food, Inc. and Food & Water Watch’s Factory Farm Map.

But what you might not know is that 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used by the agriculture industry to promote growth and to compensate for filthy, crowded living conditions at these industrial livestock facilities. Nontherapeutic use of antibiotics on factory farms is making antibiotics less effective in healing infections, which is creating a public heath crisis. According to the CDC, each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result of these infections.

The FDA has known about this problem since the 70s and has yet to take meaningful action (read how its voluntary guidelines released in December fall short here). Despite this, consumer demand for better chicken has never been higher. This week, Chick-fil-A announced that within five years, it will join the ranks of companies such as Chipotle, Niman Ranch and Applegate Farms that already sell meat raised without nontherapeutic antibiotics. However, the burden should not be on consumers. We deserve the right to buy and eat better chicken no matter where we shop or dine. We need laws that protect against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. We can no longer sit by and wait for the FDA or Congress to act on this urgent public health issue, which is why we’ve kicked off a campaign to encourage local governments to take a stand.

This spring, Food & Water Watch is partnering with the Green Corps training program for organizers to pass resolutions in seven cities in support of banning the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. We’ve already passed the first of these resolutions in Providence, RI, with more to come. Read more about our local efforts below. We will keep you posted as more resolutions are passed. In the meantime, tell your members of Congress to support federal legislation to save antibiotics for life-saving medicine, not animal feed on factory farms.

Read the full article…

February 7th, 2014

Factory Farmed Chicken: Not Fit to Eat

By Darcey Rakestraw

Low in cholesterol and saturated fat, chicken has been touted as a healthy alternative to red meat. You may think you’re making a good choice by choosing chicken when you go out to eat or shopping at the supermarket, but one thing’s for sure: the way we produce chicken today is something our grandparents would never recognize—and it’s even making us sick.

That’s why we’ve created this new video in partnership with Appeal To Reason Productions featuring Environmental Media Association board members Constance Zimmer, Raphael Sbarge and Samantha Ressler.

How often do you sit down at a restaurant and order the chicken? If you asked questions about how the chicken was raised and processed, you probably wouldn’t get very clear answers. Inspired by this hilarious Portlandia skit, these are the answers you’d get if your server knew the real story behind most of the chicken served in the U.S.

But unlike the diners in the video, you’d probably not be amused if your waiter told you that your chicken was raised on a factory farm controlled by one of four giant corporations. Or that it was dunked in bleach to remove visible signs of fecal matter. Or that the animals were raised in crowded conditions raised on antibiotics (which is contributing to a public health disaster—antibiotic resistance in humans.)

Now, we have a handful of days or weeks to put pressure on the USDA not to allow the privatization of poultry inspections. Given the unhealthy way that chicken is raised and processed, proper food inspections are vital. But could you inspect 175 birds a minute? We couldn’t either. That’s why the USDA’s plan to cut USDA inspectors and to put the job of inspections in the hands of the poultry companies is a bad idea. What’s worse, is it’s the first step towards deregulating our meat inspection system entirely—with beef inspections next on the list.

Share the video and take action today to pressure the USDA to stop the plan before it’s too late.

December 23rd, 2013

A Year of Victories

 

Earlier this month, the entire Food & Water Watch staff gathered to map out our work for 2014. We planned to briefly celebrate our victories from 2013, too… but from local fracking bans to protecting our food from arsenic, it took us over an hour just to list them all! 

These victories are all thanks to you, and we made this infographic to show you all you’ve done in 2013.

 Read the full article…

December 11th, 2013

New Antibiotic Guidelines, but the Devil’s in the Details

By Sarah Borron


Today the FDA released voluntary guidelines for drug companies and livestock producers, in a long overdue update to the policy antibiotic use in livestock. But as always, the devil is in the details.

For background, livestock producers routinely give livestock low doses of antibiotics in feed in order to promote growth and prevent disease, a practice known as subtherapeutic use. Unfortunately, this practice promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing public health crisis.

FDA’s new guidance requests that pharmaceutical companies change the labels on medications used in feed. The medication label states how the medicine is legally allowed to be used, and the change FDA is requesting is that antibiotics important in human medicine no longer be labeled for growth promotion purposes. 

FDA assured stakeholders in a call today that two major pharmaceutical companies have already agreed to this label change for the drugs they produce. Once the label has been changed, the drug can only be used in feed to “treat, prevent, or control disease” and requires a veterinary prescription for those uses. Currently, most antibiotics sold in livestock feed are available over the counter without veterinary oversight. 

But FDA’s new strategy still isn’t enough. There are two main problems: Read the full article…

November 14th, 2013

This Year, Have a Big-Poultry-Free Holiday Season

By Wenonah Hauter

This post originally appeared at Otherwords.org.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Chicken and turkey are among the most popular and versatile foods Americans eat, but they also bring health risks to your plate.

Most factory-farmed poultry is raised with antibiotics — which leads to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Now, the USDA wants to cut the budget for poultry inspections and allow big chicken companies to police themselves. The agency also moved recently to approve imports of processed chicken from China — a country that has had major food safety debacles.

This holiday season, will the poultry you sit down to enjoy be industrially produced, processed half a world away, and full of chemicals, antibiotics, and worse?

Since there are no guarantees, you may want to avoid buying poultry produced by the companies that dominate the industry. There are big reasons to avoid their chicken and turkey.

JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods, Perdue, and Sanderson slaughter and process more than half of the chicken consumed in the United States, while Butterball, Jennie-O Turkey Store, and Cargill dominate the turkey business. Their outsized operations give them significant market and lobbying power. These companies act as middlemen between farmers and consumers, and they eat up most of the profit in the supply chain.

Before you purchase the holiday turkey you’ll share with your loved ones in a few weeks, consider these four facts:

  1. Because there are just a handful of players in the poultry market, a handful of companies call the shots — and reap large profits. For every $19 twelve-piece chicken bucket from KFC, only 25 cents goes to the farmer that raised the poultry, while less than $5 goes to the chicken processor. (KFC gets the rest.)
  2. These large companies use unfair contracts, require expensive equipment and building upgrades, and employ other aggressive tactics to squeeze poultry farmers to produce more and more chickens and turkeys for less and less money.
  3. The big chicken and turkey companies own everything from the chicks and poults to the feed, the trucks, the slaughter facilities, and the brand. The grower assumes all the debt associated with the operation, including the mortgages on the special buildings they have to construct to get a contract. The farmer also shoulders the expenses of utilities and of removing waste and dead birds.
  4. Concentrating poultry production means concentrating the amount of waste seeping off of factory farms into nearby waterways (like the Chesapeake Bay). Perdue and other big companies leave the farmers to shoulder all the responsibility for dealing with the waste.

Do you need more reasons to avoid poultry produced by these giant companies? Consider that their market power begets enormous political power — and these companies throw their weight around to make sure they can continue producing the most birds for the most profit. Plus, factory farming hurts poultry producers, consumers, and the environment.

Nothing showcases the power Big Ag holds over our political leaders more than emails we at Food & Water Watch revealed last year between Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of Maryland and poultry giant Perdue.

These exchanges illustrated how Perdue’s profits from chicken sold in California and Michigan are being used to exert inappropriate power over Maryland’s governor through intense lobbying efforts on everything from poultry litter incineration to the environmental cases that a university law clinic engages in.

If you buy your chicken or turkey from the grocery store, chances are that you are buying a brand owned by one of the largest companies. Consider seeking out independent poultry farmers who sell direct to consumers instead.

September 20th, 2013

CDC Report Affirms Urgency to Combat Antibiotic Resistance

drug take-back day

Photo by Tom Varco used with permission.

By Sarah Borron

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a wake-up call about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. For the first time, the CDC provided overall data on antibiotic-resistant infections and deaths from those infections in the U.S. The results are disturbing. Over two million Americans experience an antibiotic-resistant infection each year, and at least 23,000 people die from them. The CDC states these estimates are minimum estimates based on the data available. Over 20 percent of the infections are caused by pathogens spread through contaminated foods.

Over time, bacteria evolve to survive exposure to antibiotics that used to kill them. Antibiotic-resistant infections in humans occur in a range of forms: food-borne illness, skin infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and sexually transmitted diseases. Antibiotic resistance means that the disease is harder to treat, more likely to require stronger drugs with side effects, and more likely to result in hospitalization and death.

There are ways to use antibiotics to delay the development of resistance. Unfortunately, livestock agriculture uses 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S., mostly in ways that hasten the development of resistance. Whole herds and flocks are given small doses of antibiotics in feed for extended periods of time to counteract the effects of being raised in crowded, unsanitary conditions. 

 The CDC reports “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” The CDC goes on to recommend, “Because of the link between antibiotic use in food-producing animals and the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth.” We continue to wait for FDA to release final regulations, known as the Veterinary Feed Directive, requiring veterinary oversight on the use of antibiotics in livestock feed. 

 That’s why Congress should pass legislation (the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act in the House and the Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act in the Senate) banning the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock feed. Take a moment today to tell your members of Congress to sponsor this legislation and slow the spread of antibiotic resistance.

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