But Plan Falls Short of Stopping Irresponsible Antibiotic Use By Factory Farms
Antibiotic resistance could send us back to a pre-antibiotic world, where a tiny cut or a bout of strep throat could lead to death in epidemic proportions. This isn’t the nightmarish plot in a futuristic fantasy; antibiotic resistance is a very real and current problem that is getting worse. Most people alive today have never known a world without this wonder drug — which was discovered in 1928 and became widely available after World War II — and cannot imagine how devastating its loss would be. But, we already have a glimpse into the tragic consequences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 23,000 people die and 2 million people become sick every year in the United States because of drug-resistant bacteria.
The White House on Friday released the National Action Plan for Combatting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. Recognizing the seriousness of the problem, the Obama Administration is almost doubling its funding to $1.2 billion in the 2016 budget. The basic goals of the President’s plan are to prevent and fight antibiotic resistance and to develop better diagnostic tools and new drugs to treat resistant bacteria.
The five-year antibiotic resistance plan calls for action in several key areas, including medicine, public health, food safety and agriculture. However, many experts do not believe the plan goes far enough to address the misuse of antibiotics by factory farms. Representative Louise Slaughter, a microbiologist who serves in the U.S House, responded to the plan, “The administration has fallen woefully short of taking meaningful action to curb the overuse of antibiotics in healthy food animals.”
Rep. Slaughter points out that 80 percent of antibiotics produced in the country are used for prevention of disease in farm animals. Animals in large-scale farming operations are kept in such close quarters that infections occur often and spread quickly. Factory farmers claim they must use antibiotics to keep the animals healthy. Of course, a much better solution would be to end the abusive conditions that make the drugs allegedly necessary.
In addition, antibiotics promote faster growth of animals, which translates into more profits since a farming corporation can sell larger quantities of an animal’s meat sooner.
The sub-therapeutic doses typically delivered to prevent disease and to promote growth are not enough to actually kill the bacteria. Herein lies the dangers of this irresponsible agricultural practice.
Like the maxim, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” if the antibiotic doesn’t kill the bacterium, it makes it stronger. Therefore, the dose of antibiotic must be high enough to kill the bacterium. Failing that, an unconquerable superbug may emerge.
Although one of the plan’s objectives is to “eliminate use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals,” the plan recommends only veterinary oversight when the drug is used for “treatment, control, and prevention of disease,” rather than eliminating preventative agricultural uses as well.
The agricultural industry will not voluntarily stop irresponsible use of antibiotics. In fact, sales of antibiotics for farm animals increased by 16 percent in the three-year period between 2009 and 2012.
The bottom line is the misuse of antibiotics places people’s lives at risk for the sole purpose of making agricultural corporations more money. All non-treatment uses of antibiotics should be illegal. Otherwise, we are giving away our most powerful weapon to our enemy, and the superbugs will win.