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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.

Gus Fuguitt, Providence, RI

After just a month on the ground, the city of Providence has proven its commitment to public health and regulating factory farms. On Feb 7th, Providence City Council made history by passing the first municipal resolution calling on a federal ban of the misuse of antibiotics. Food & Water Watch volunteers and supporters attended the meeting to witness the passage of the resolution, sponsored by Councilman Seth Yurdin.

As the meeting was called to order, Councilman Yurdin asked to move the resolution to the top of the meeting. Then he talked about the issue of antibiotic resistance, and how their overuse of factory farms was causing a serious public health crisis. When the resolution came to a vote, it passed unanimously. It was an exciting moment and all of the volunteers were pretty thrilled to see their hard work pay off! We’re excited to keep the ball rolling to build more public support in Rhode Island for sensible regulations to protect our antibiotics.

Kathryn Lee, Madison, WI

The campaign in Madison is off to a great start. At our campaign launch event, the citizens that came out to get involved in our local effort here inspired me.

Tony Ends has been an organic farmer alongside his wife, Dela, for 25 years.

“Dela and I tried 20 years ago simply to live what we believed on our little corner of the world, practicing organic agricultural practices. Over and over, however, the dominant industrial agribusiness system, prevailing economic model, public policies, subsidized incentives, power, money and influence have confronted our little farmstead from every side.” Tony called on his fellow community members to join the effort to demand action to save life-saving drugs before it’s too late.

Lilly Daigle, Alexandria, VA

The launch of the local campaign in Alexandria has been an inspirational experience for me as a community organizer. It’s amazing to see how passionate and involved members of Alexandria are when it comes to protecting their public health and environment. At our first campaign action meeting, a dozen community members turned out on a cold, winter’s night to learn more about our effort to safeguard antibiotics, sign up to volunteer, and write letters to city council. With numerous upcoming meetings with members of the Alexandria city council and the Environmental Policy Commission, I’m excited for where this campaign and its amazing volunteers will take us.

Eva Resnick-Day, Seattle WA

Arriving here in Seattle to launch the local effort to call on Congress to regulate antibiotics, I was nervous that people might be a bit too deflated after the devastating loss of the attempt to label GMOs to get involved. What I found, however, was the opposite. People here were energized. Seattle is ready now more than ever to take on our broken food system, and fight the corporate systems that compromise our health and well-being. A highlight for me was meeting with so many volunteers after our campaign launch meeting, who were eager to learn how they could get more involved. Many volunteers shared a similar sentiment: ” I joined this campaign because it is strategic. I know we can win, and I know that when we do, it will have a big impact.” I cannot wait to build our momentum and movement across the city, and work with the Seattle City Council to be a catalyst in the national movement to save antibiotics for humans, not factory farms.

Margaret Kran-Annextstein, Pittsburgh, PA

The people of Pittsburgh are truly committed to standing up for what’s right – safe food and healthy communities. As our team of volunteers has grown, I’ve met tons of people who were excited to tell their city council members about the campaign and to guide Pittsburgh towards a leadership role in banning the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. During the freezing nights of the Polar Vortex, I spoke on the phone with Pittsburghers who know that this campaign is important for this city right now. So many of our conversations end with:

“Thanks so much for calling. I am so glad you are here.” As a cold organizer in a new city, nothing warms you like those words.

Emily Palmer, St. Paul, MN

St. Paul is an incredible place to organize. The Minnesotans I have met so far are eager to make meaningful change for the issues they care about, and know full well that with persistence and hard work, their elected officials will listen. This strength of will is evident in every campaign meeting we have held thus far, whether it be turning out 20 citizens to our kickoff meeting, or stalwart petitioning at the farmers market – all in negative degree weather. I’m excited to continue working with our outstanding coalition partners, and meeting and working with community groups from around St. Paul to send a strong message to the federal government to put public health over corporate wealth.

Cait De Mott Grady, Cleveland, OH

The enthusiastic and passionate response from the Cleveland community over the past month has been truly inspiring. During our first meeting on a snowy night in January, volunteers sat around and shared about why they care about this urgent public health issue and about why they’re excited to get involved in the campaign. One volunteer said very bluntly, “I’m tired of being angry and ready to do something about it.” This sentiment was echoed by everyone else in the room. It’s a privilege to be here in the Cleveland community working toward a more just and sustainable food system.

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

  1. Barbara says:

    I am in full support of this, however, factory farming NEEDS to be banned completely first, for this is why constantly pumping up the poor animals with the AB’s was “needed” in the first place. Seems to this is putting the cart before cart.

  2. “If one person is unkind to an animal it is considered to be cruelty but when a lot of people are unkind to animals, especially in the name of commerce, the cruelty is condoned and once large sums of money are at stake, will be defended to the last by otherwise intelligent people.”

    Ruth Harrison – Author of Animal Machine

  3. Michelle Adams says:

    Really? We have antibiotic resistant Mrsa and serious illnesses and diseases increasing in occurrence and we still haven’t smartened up yet!

    Stop the overuse of antibiotics in our livestock!!!!!

    I only buy organic because of abuses like these!

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