The use of antibiotics in farming has come under intense scrutiny as consumers become more concerned with food safety. An estimated 80 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. are given to livestock. If you think that figure sounds alarming, you’re right. Preventative antibiotics given to livestock can create deadly antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” including E. Coli, MRSA — a deadly bacterial infection — and Neisseria Gonorrhoeae. The FDA has published several reports indicating the danger of overusing antibiotics in industrial farming (as early as 1977), but has yet to put a ban into effect.
Late last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill calling for a limit of antibiotic use in animal agriculture. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is championing the bill (PAMTA) which would phase out the non-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics in livestock and would require new antibiotic applications that prove the safety of the antibiotics livestock consume. If passed, the bill would not restrict the use of antibiotics to treat sick livestock and pets. In 2007 Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) — the only microbiologist in Congress — introduced a similar bill to no avail.
Critics point to the lack of regulation in regard to human antibiotic consumption, and many farmers maintain that antibiotics are necessary to keep animals healthy and food safe.
Sen. Feinstein proposed the bill after she was approached by the Don family, who lost a 12-year old son due to an infection that would not respond to antibiotics.
Here are 5 additional facts about the antibiotic controversy:
- Livestock grown in the U.S. last year consumed 29 million pounds of antibiotics
- MRSA kills more Americans per year than AIDS
- More antibiotics are given to food animals in the single state of North Carolina than are given to humans in all of the United States
- Several environment and health-advocacy groups are suing the FDA to ban the use of penicillin and tetracyclines in livestock feed
- All 27 EU nations have stopped using antibiotics for growth purposes
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