Stop the Superbugs: CoPIRG, Doctors Call for End to Antibiotic Overuse on Factory Farms

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CoPIRG Foundation

Denver – The CoPIRG Foundation, along with medical professionals across Colorado, called upon the Obama Administration today to immediately restrict the use of antibiotics on factory farms when animals are not sick. They are part of a nationwide coalition of more than 2,000 medical professionals working against the declining effectiveness of antibiotics due to overuse and misuse.

“The medicine chest may be empty soon. We need to end the abuse of antibiotics on factory farms right now to preserve antibiotics and continue to effectively treat infections,” urged Danny Katz, CoPIRG Foundation Director.

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. 

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.

At the event, the CoPIRG Foundation released a new report entitled 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 Obama administration needs to stop this practice cold turkey,” stated Katz. 

Victims at especially high risk include patients receiving cancer chemotherapy, 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.   

Janet Wolff, a local Registered Nurse, has seen the impact of antibiotic resistant bacteria. A year and a half ago, her aunt passed away because of an infection that antibiotics failed to stop.

“It was heartbreaking to stand, as a nurse, and watch her dying before my eyes and not be able to do anything,” said Wolff.