Stop the Superbugs

Doctors Call to End to Antibiotic Abuse on Factory Farms


SACRAMENTO, CA—Doctors across the state today called upon the California legislature to immediately restrict the use of antibiotics on factory farms when animals are not sick. The doctors are part of a nationwide coalition of more than 4,000 medical professionals working against the declining effectiveness of antibiotics due to overuse and misuse.

“Antibiotic use and misuse in both humans and animals is a fact of life in the 21st century,” said Doctor Sugar of Sansum clinic in Santa Barbara, who specializes in Infectious Disease. “If we are to avoid a “post-antibiotic era”, one in which antibiotics no longer provide effective treatment for bacterial infections, we need to act decisively now, because time is running out. We are already seeing bacterial infections for which antibiotic selection is difficult, infections in which first, second, and third line drugs have proven to be useless.”

Antibiotics, a pillar of modern medicine are losing their effectiveness due to the emergence of ‘superbugs,’ bacteria that are resistant to one or more classes of drugs. A phenomenon fueled by untargeted and widespread use, experts point to the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms as a major contributor to the problem. 

More than 70 percent of antibiotics in classes used in human medicine are sold for use in food animals, typically to increase the speed at which animals gain weight or to prevent disease caused by unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. This use fuels the creation of resistant bacteria that can spread off farms via food, animal to human contact, and animal waste that enters the environment.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a small first step, by issuing guidelines for antibiotics use on farms. Unfortunately, the guidelines were voluntary and narrow in scope, and are unlikely to lead to significant reductions in antibiotic misuse on farms. 

This year, the California legislature has taken interest in tackling the issue. In January AB 1437 was introduced by Assembly Member Kevin Mullin that would have banned the sale of meat in California if antibiotics were used on the animal for a purpose aside from treating illness. A weaker measure, SB 835, was introduced that simply codifies the FDA guidelines.

“Antibiotic resistance is real and may become the single biggest risk to public health in our lifetimes,” said Assembly Member Kevin Mullin. “It’s time for public agencies to stop tinkering around the edges and get real with limiting the overuse of antibiotics so that they remain effective when their use becomes necessary.”

A growing body of experts in the United States and across the globe is calling for stronger action. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently estimated that drug-resistant bacterial infections make 2 million people sick in the United States each year and cause 23,000 deaths. A recent World Health Organization report on the issue estimated resistant infections result in eight million additional days in hospitals, which costs between $21 and $34 billion each year in the United States alone.

The doctors spoke at press events in Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and San Diego with CALPIRG, which was releasing a new report titled Ending the Abuse of Antibiotics in Livestock Production: The Case for Reform.

“The science is overwhelming that antibiotics shouldn’t be misused on animals that aren’t sick. The California legislature needs to stop this practice cold turkey,” stated Garo Manjikian, legislative advocate for CALPIRG, a state consumer advocacy group. 

Victims at especially high risk include patients receiving cancer chemotherapy, radiation, complex surgeries, dialysis, and organ and bone marrow transplants. These patients are much more susceptible to bacterial infection, and treatment relies often on effective antibiotics to ensure recovery. A drug-resistant infection could mean more stress, illness, cost and sometimes death in these cases.   

Leabah Winter from Alameda is still battling complications from her breast cancer surgery of 2009. “About a year after my surgery I developed a serious infection in my breast which was resistant to a variety of antibiotics, and my physician had to keep changing to ever more potent antibiotics which made me sicker and sicker due to their side effects. To increase my chances to get healthy again, we need to keep antibiotics working, and we need the California legislature to stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms on animals that aren’t sick.”


CALPIRG is a statewide consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.

staff | TPIN

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