As I wrote in my blog just two weeks ago there has been growing concern on the overuse of antibiotics in animals since 1977. The research points to an increasing body of evidence that overuse of antibiotics in animals is the leading cause of drug resistance bacteria. Every year 18,000 people die from the antibiotic-resistant bug MRSA, and 80 percent of all antibiotics are used on animals not humans.
A recent study showed that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can pass easily between humans and pigs. “It’s like watching the birth of a superbug,” said Lance Price, the study’s lead author and add that to the fact that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use in food animals mostly to make them grow faster and fatter and you see why Lance Price is concerned.
At a recent conference in Copenhagen on antimicrobial resistance, Dr. Margaret Chen, Director General for the World Health Organization was quoted as saying. “Some experts say we are moving back to the pre-antibiotic era. No. This will be a post-antibiotic era. In terms of new replacement antibiotics, the pipeline is virtually dry. A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.” Dr. Chen’s words are being bought to startling fruition as we already discovered antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella, and E. coli and tuberculosis is increasing becoming more difficult to treat and spreading across the globe.
The new FDA voluntary guidance on how antibiotics should be used to slow the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is not enough. The overuse of antibiotics will continue, because the guidance documents endorse the use of these drugs for disease prevention. Like growth promotion, this means feeding small quantities of antibiotics to food animals throughout their lives and this practice has been shown to also lead to antibiotic resistance.
The FDA and the drug industry cannot continue to delay action possibly for decades as before, but this time with deadly consequences for the human race. A possible solution would be for Congress to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2011 H.R. 965 S. 1211. This bill was introduced by Representative Louise Slaughter and would ban the use of antibiotics critical for human health in animal feed, but allow veterinarians to take care of sick animals. Congress should seize this opportunity to ensure that antibiotics work effectively for future generations of Americans.