Proposal would safeguard use of antibiotics in agriculture

By:  Central Valley Business Times - Staff Writer
Legislation to combat antibiotic resistant “superbugs” that develop when antibiotics are misused in animal agriculture has been introduced in Congress by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

The bill, if it were to make it into law, directs the Food and Drug Administration to prohibit the use of human antibiotics in the feed and water of healthy farm animals if they jeopardize human health.

It requires drug companies and agriculture producers to demonstrate that antibiotics are used to treat clinically diagnosable diseases — not just to fatten livestock.  Overuse of these antibiotics contributes to the development of so-called “superbugs,” or infections that cannot be treated with existing medicines, the senator says.

“Antibiotics are the closest thing to a ‘silver bullet’ in human medicine given their ability to wipe out a wide variety of bacterial infections, but we are in danger of losing this weapon in the fight against infectious diseases,” says Ms. Feinstein. “When antibiotics are fed in low doses to animals, only the strongest, most resistant bacteria are left behind to reproduce.  By the time these resistant pathogens make their way from the animals into our communities, the infections can be costly to treat or untreatable all together.”

She points to a recent study published in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, which found that nearly 50 percent of grocery store meat was contaminated with antibiotic resistant pathogens. Approximately 25 percent of this meat was contaminated with pathogens that were resistant to three or more type of antibiotics.

“The irresponsible use of antibiotics is dangerous, and tens of thousands of people in the U.S. die each year from antibiotic resistant infections,” says Ms. Feinstein. “We must preserve the efficacy of these life-saving drugs by carefully restricting their overuse in our agriculture products.”

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., are co-sponsors of the legislation.