Important legislation to protect our health against antibiotic-resistant bacteria

It was heartening to hear yesterday that Rep. Slaughter has re-introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act in the House.  The legislation addresses an issue that is of vital concern to all of us: the dangerous overuse and misuse of antibiotics in livestock operations and the associated rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  The bill would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the use of important human antibiotics for animals that are not sick unless FDA finds that such use is reasonably certain not to harm human health by contributing to antibiotic resistance.

When bacteria become resistant to an antibiotic also used in human medicine, antibiotics become less effective for treatment of human diseases, and in some cases cease to be effective.  The misuse of antibiotics in livestock is associated with the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant  Staphylococcus aureus), which is responsible for more deaths each year in the US than AIDS

Today, a staggering 80% of antibiotics used in the United States are used on livestock animals, most of it (70% of total US use) on animals that are not even sick.  They are used to promote faster weight gain in animals and to combat the risks of infection created by unsustainable livestock practices that cram together thousands of animals in close quarters in often stressful and unsanitary conditions.  Such misuse of antibiotics is allowed despite the fact that many of the antibiotics used on livestock animals are also used to treat infections in humans, and in fact are considered of critical or high importance for human medicine. 

Although FDA has the authority to address this problem and has recognized the threat posed by the use of antibiotics for livestock animals, it has only moved to recommend that livestock operations voluntarily stop using antibiotics for growth promotion.  It has largely failed to take more forceful action to stop such use and protect our health. 

Rep. Slaughter’s bill is a response to FDA’s continued failure to act. It would force FDA to act and would fill an important gap in the protection of our health.

About the Authors

Avinash Kar

Senior Attorney, Health & Environment program

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