As a mother, I care deeply about the food that my family eats. And as a lawmaker, I care deeply about New York’s farmers who work tirelessly to supply our country with a wholesome and safe food supply. That’s why, as a member of the Agriculture Committee, I’ve devoted much of my time in the Senate to ensuring that our food system is as safe for our families as possible. It’s also why I have grave concerns about the use of antibiotics in the production of food animals and its impact on the health of our families.
The fact is that antibiotics are critical tools for treating illness in humans and animals. But antibiotics are also used to promote faster growth in the production of food animals and its overuse can lead to unhealthy antibiotic resistance in our children. As I travel throughout New York, whether speaking to farmers, consumers, parents, physicians, or veterinarians, one thing we all agree on is that antibiotics should be used judiciously, and we should do everything in our power to prevent antibiotic resistance.
When I think about the food I serve my children, I, like all parents, want to be sure it is safe. I also want to be sure my children will still have access to antibiotic drugs that work when they need them. This is why I have been fighting to get scientists and consumers more data on how antimicrobial drugs are used in agriculture. Currently, the Food & Drug Administration, the agency that regulates antibiotics, doesn’t collect enough data on how these drugs are used to study potential public health risks effectively. Furthermore, the FDA has not made public much of the data they were already asked to collect by Congress in 2008. The FDA should be doing much more to study the evolving issue of antimicrobial resistance and make data on antibiotic use in food production available for consumers.
In 2011, an outbreak across 34 states of the deadly foodborne pathogen Salmonella was linked to ground turkey. The Centers for Disease Control identified the pathogen involved as resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics. In fact, the CDC found that this multi-drug resistant pathogen increased the risk that those who got sick would be hospitalized or have a treatment failure. This outbreak caused a total of 136 people to become ill, 37 were hospitalized, and there was one death. The outbreak was actually identified in part due to routine data collection on antimicrobial resistance in foodborne pathogens.
This experience made two things clear to me: first, we must ensure our nation’s food supply remains safe in the face of new emerging threats such as multi-drug resistant pathogens; and secondly, we must continue to ensure public health officials have the data they need so we can empower our experts to protect the public’s health.
I have been working hard to require that the FDA do a better job of publishing as much data as they can for consumers and scientists to use so we can better understand antimicrobial resistance. I am also working to encourage the FDA to take additional steps, such as collecting more data on how these important drugs are being used in agriculture, and finalizing policies to prohibit antimicrobial drugs from being overused in food production. Consumers should have access to transparent data about how our food is being produced. We should give all the tools we can to our scientists and public health experts so they can ensure our food supply is safe. And we must ensure that antimicrobial drugs remain effective for treating illness in both humans and animals.
I hope that you will stay interested in how your food is produced, and continue to ask what you can do to support a safe and sustainable food system.
This blog is a part of MomsRising's Supermoms Against Superbugs Blog Carnival! Please check out other great posts
from experts, parents and activists on the front lines in the fight to keep our food healthy and safe.