The Food and Drug Administration once again issued an urgent public health advisory to corporate farmers admonishing the industry to discontinue the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals. Unfortunately, the FDA is not in charge, factory farms and drug money run the show.
For the last four decades, the FDA has publicly voiced the same concern and done absolutely nothing but turn a blind eye. As the Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton notes: “The FDA has tried to limit the use of antibiotics in agriculture since 1977, but its efforts have repeatedly collapsed in the face of opposition from the drug industry and farm lobby.”
FDA efforts have collapsed because the pharmaceutical industry and farm lobby are the ones that dictate policy. The only reason Joshua Sharfstein, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, has publicly voiced concerns now is because people like Brad Spellberg, an infectious-diseases specialist and the author of “Rising Plague,” a book about antibiotic resistance, have focused attention on the issue and raised public awareness regarding the ever-growing evidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which has reached epic proportions.
It’s standard operating procedure for corporate farms to routinely and needlessly administer antibiotics to cattle, pork and poultry whether they need them or not. Large corporate U.S farms use antibiotics to to stimulate growth and save on feed costs. The scale of use is so massive that in a nation that used a total of 35 million pounds of antibiotics last year, 70 percent — 28 million pounds — were used on U.S. animals alone.
“The writing is on the wall,” said Spellberg, who teaches at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We’re in an era where antibiotic resistance is out of control, and we’re running out of drugs and new drugs are not being developed. We can’t continue along the path we’re on.”
Sharfstein said that the guidance was a first step, and the agency would issue new regulations if the industry does not comply voluntarily. Note how Sharfstein’s so-called urgent health advisory was issued in the obsequious form of “guidance” with the implied threat of regulation. The fact is, the corporate farm industry has long since dismissed these FDA advisories as hollow.
“We have the regulatory mechanisms, and industry knows that,” he said. “We also think things can be done voluntarily. We’re not handcuffed to the steering wheel of a particular strategy, but I’m not ruling out anything that we can do to establish these important public-health goals.”
As the Huffington Post points out: If this is such an urgent public health issue, then why not just ban the practice outright? The FDA has that authority, and it would bring our animal production practices closer to those found in more advanced nations like Canada and the EU countries.
Powerful corporate farming as a whole have regularly dismissed the empty warnings from the FDA. In fact, the National Pork Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association responded to Sharfstein’s advisory by asking him and the agency to prove their claims.
“Show us the science that use of antibiotics in animal production is causing this antibiotic resistance,” said Dave Warner of the pork council. “How do we know [the problem] is not on the human side? Where is the science for you to go forward on this?”
Dave Warner and the Pork council know there’s plenty of scientific evidence, but instead choose to ignore it in order to boost profits at the literal expense of the rest of us; it’s consumers who ultimately pick up the tab for the rising cost of esoteric medications to defeat antibiotic-resistant infections. Exotic antibiotics for resistant infections are far more expensive than conventional medication.
Not only have the Europeans banned the use of antibiotics in livestock except to treat illness, six years ago, the World Health Organization released a report linking resistant and killer bacteria to the regular and unnecessary use of antibiotics in industrial farming.
Additionally, a March 2010 audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, revealed that beef containing pesticides, veterinary antibiotics as well as a host of heavy metals including copper, lead, cadmium, and arsenic is knowingly sold to the public because federal agencies have no set limits for the contaminants.
The antibiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA kills more Americans than AIDS, and is widespread in the U.S. pig herd.
In March of last year, Rep. Louise Slaughter introduced the “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act” (PAMTA) in the House of Representatives. This bill would ensure that we preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for the treatment of human diseases by restricting the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock.
The bill’s opponents, notes David Kirby with the Huff Post, include powerful Democrats from, you guessed it, states filled with factory farms. They are unmoved by sensible arguments made by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Practice, or the American Public Health Association. They want money.
Slaughter is waging war with the pharmaceutical industry who spend $135 million a year in lobbying dollars and another $70 million from agribusiness. Please tell Congress and your Representatives you support this bill.