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Local Doctors Call for End to Antibiotic Abuse on Factory Farms

WISPIRG Foundation

Madison, WI – Local doctors called upon the Obama Administration today 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 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 Dr. Carol Spiegel, PhD., Professor of Microbiology Emerita, Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, University of Wisconsin Madison. 

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. 

“A world in which a chance fall or inopportune ingestion could lead to crippling disabilities and 

death by way of infection has become much less familiar,” said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, a pediatrician and an officer of the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If we do not take action against non-judicious use of antibiotics, we run the risk of returning to the grim therapeutic reality of a hundred years ago.”

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. 

The doctors spoke at an event with WISPIRG Foundation, which was releasing 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 Ben Knuth, End the Abuse of Antibiotics Campaign Coordinator for WISPIRG, a state consumer advocacy group.  

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.    

The Obama administration needs to stop the misuse of antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick. 


WISPIRG 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.