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.