Antibiotic Resistance 101: How Antibiotic Misuse on Factory Farms Can Make You Sick Featured

Authors: Food and Water Watch

September 26th, 2012

Antibiotic Resistance 101: How Antibiotic Misuse on Factory Farms Can Make You Sick

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Antibiotics are critical tools in human medicine. Medical authorities are warning that these life-saving drugs are losing their effectiveness, and there are few replacement drugs in the pipeline. Bacteria evolve in response to the use of antibiotics both in humans and in animals. Those bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics prosper as antibiotics kill the non-resistant bacteria. Once they emerge, antibiotic-resistant (AR) bacteria can transfer AR traits to other bacteria in animals and the environment. The development of antibiotic resistance is hastened by the use of low doses of antibiotics at industrial farms. The drugs are used routinely, not to treat sick animals, but for growth promotion and disease prevention, a practice known as subtherapeutic use.

Antibiotic resistance has become a global problem. People get sicker from these infections, as it takes multiple rounds of increasingly stronger antibiotics to stop the infection, allowing the infection to progress further than it might otherwise. Fewer drug options can make it harder for doctors to treat patients with allergies and make it more likely for patients to require stronger drugs given intravenously. 

Despite the urgency of this growing public health threat, neither Congress nor the FDA have taken sufficient steps to restrict the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock. On the one hand, the FDA has limited subtherapeutic uses of a class of antibiotics called cephalosporins and banned all uses of another class called fluoroquinolones, but it has taken a lawsuit to make the FDA address a proposal to ban these same uses in two other major antibiotic classes, tetracyclines and penicillins. The FDA currently insists that voluntary guidance to industry will solve the problem, citing lack of resources as an impediment to withdrawing current drug approvals for subtherapeutic uses.



  Food & Water Watch recommends that:

  • Congress should pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) and ban subtherapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock, 
    thereby avoiding the cumbersome drug-by-drug process currently required of the FDA to achieve the same goal.
  • The FDA should assess the impact of its voluntary strategy and start the regulatory process now to withdraw drug approvals for injudicious uses within three years. The FDA should also strongly enforce the existing bans on certain uses of antibiotics. 
  • The FDA should address the Government Accountability Office’s recommendations to improve data collection on the use of antibiotics and the development of antibiotic resistance.20 NARMS must be broadened to allow the FDA to identify and respond rapidly to emerging resistance.
  • Government agencies should collaborate to increase research on antibiotic resistance, including the mechanisms of resistance emergence, spread and remediation as well as alternative means of preventing illness in livestock. 
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should provide training and technical assistance to livestock producers that are transitioning away from subtherapeutic antibiotic use. The USDA should address contract stipulations that require livestock producers to use feed with antibiotics already added. 

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