The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 23,000 Americans die every year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and warns that the widespread overuse of antibiotics on factory farms is putting our health at risk.
WHAT IF ANTIBIOTICS STOPPED WORKING?
If you are like most Americans, you or someone in your family has been prescribed antibiotics to treat an illness. Maybe it was a simple ear infection, or strep throat. Or maybe it was something potentially life-threatening, like pneumonia or a post-surgery infection.
When we get an infectious illness, we assume that the antibiotics our doctors prescribe for us will make us better. But what if they didn’t? Medical experts, including from the World Health Organization, are warning that if we don’t stop the overuse of antibiotics, they could stop working — with potentially grave consequences for public health.
ANTIBIOTIC OVERUSE ON FACTORY FARMS
Despite these warnings, many factory farms are giving antibiotics to healthy livestock every day. Why? Crowded and unsanitary conditions, along with other practices used on factory farms can put animals’ health at risk.
Instead of treating sick animals with antibiotics when they get an infection, many farming operations just distribute antibiotics to all of their animals as a preventative measure. Factory farms also discovered that giving animals a regular dose of antibiotics made them gain weight faster. And now, up to 70% of all antibiotics used in the United States are used on livestock.
Antibiotics are meant to be given in precise doses to treat specific types of infections. When they are used on a daily basis by farming operation, it increases the likelihood that all kinds of bacteria, including the ones that make people sick, will develop resistance, and our life-saving medicines won't work.
"Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.
HEALTH PROFESSIONALS RAISING THE ALARM
The calls for action from the public health community are growing louder, and more urgent. For instance, World Health Organization officials said: "Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill." And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that “Much of the antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.”
Doctors are also overwhelmingly concerned. In a recent poll released by U.S. PIRG and Consumer Reports, 93% of doctors said they were concerned about the practice of using antibiotics on healthy animals for growth promotion and disease prevention. In addition, 85% of doctors said that in the last year, one or more of their patients had a presumed or confirmed case of a drug-resistant infection.
IT’S TIME FOR ACTION ON ANTIBIOTIC OVERUSE
U.S. PIRG Education Fund is informing the public and more than 100,000 people have responded by signing petitions, building a coalition of more than 10,000 doctors and members of the medical community, and enlisting the support of farmers who raise their livestock without antibiotics.
Policymakers are starting to respond. In September, President Obama issued an executive order to address the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. However, it didn’t go far enough to recommend tougher measures against antibiotic overuse on factory farms. We have until the Obama administration's task force delivers its five-year action plan to call for regulations which would require factory farms only use antibiotics on animals that are sick.
BIG FARMS & RESTAURANTS NEED TO DO THEIR PART
In addition to policy changes, if we want to keep antibiotics effective, we need farms and restaurants to change their practices. That’s why we're calling on fast food chains -– some of the largest purchasers of meat in the country -- to stop buying meat raised with antibiotics.
After we called on McDonald’s to take action, the company agreed to phase out the use of chicken raised on our lifesaving medicines in their U.S. restaurants. And if we keep up the pressure, we could be on the cusp of an industry-wide change. That’s why we’re calling on Subway, the world’s largest fast food chain, to stop buying meat from farms that overuse antibiotics. There are more Subway restaurants in the United States than there are McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. If they stop selling meat raised on antibiotics, other chains should follow.
With thousands of Americans dying, and millions more getting sick from antibiotic-resistant infections every year, ending the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms is a commonsense step.
Tools & Resources
More Choices and More Information on GMOsMaryland PIRG Foundation
Maryland PIRG Foundation
Phase out meats produced with routine use of antibiotics.
Maryland Public Interest Research Group
COMAR 26.11.32 - Control of Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds from Consumer ProductsMaryland Public Interest Research Group
New data reveals widespread use of hormone-disrupting chemicals in cleaners, disinfectants, deodorizers, clothing, shoes, paints, and personal care products.A report from the Environmental Health Strategy Center & from Prevent Harm
Half of Baltimore stores carry certified non-toxic products. Find out where!Maryland PIRG Foundation
Restaurants that serve meat without the routine use of human antibioticsMaryland PIRG Foundation
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