Last year, President Obama formed the 'National Task Force for Combating Resistant Bacteria' to put together a 5-year plan to prevent what many experts see as the public health crisis of our time: antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Its members released their plan this morning.
It isn't bad, but it also doesn't address one of the major contributors to the growth and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria--or the sicknesses and deaths they cause. This a big deal. Here's what you need to know:
The Plan proposed today by the National Task Force for Combating Resistant Bacteria does not ask for cuts to the major uses of antibiotics on farms, and what it does ask for would be voluntary changes.
"President Obama gets an A for tackling this problem from multiple angles," said Sujatha Jahagirdar, U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Stop Antibiotics Overuse Program Director. "But in terms of addressing the biggest problem, the troubling overuse and misuse of antibiotics on large factory farms, the administration gets an incomplete."
The World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and a host of experts around the globe agree that we must significantly reduce antibiotic use on factory farms--immediately. So, why aren’t we?
Part of the problem is this: agriculture is grossly overusing antibiotics by putting them into the everyday feed of livestock and poultry. This has been common for decades, for a couple reasons. In the 1950s, researchers discovered that antibiotics help animals grow faster with less feed. So, farmers began routinely giving their animals antibiotics, sick or not. The FDA tried to ban this practice in 1977, after finding that this practice could breedz drug-resistant bacteria that travel off the farm and infect people. Unfortunately, they did not succeed--while the practice is frowned upon, it is still legal and quite common. Meanwhile, today's average farm is dirty, cramped, and a hotbed for disease--animals who live there are given routine antibiotics just to remain “healthy” in otherwise unliveable conditions.
Sick animals should recieve antibiotics--that's what medicine is for. But with the profits so high and rules so minimal, using antibiotics only to treat specific infections is not common practice. Overuse is. As long as this remains the case, our health is at risk, so stronger action must be taken. To truly protect our families and keep antibiotics effective for generations to come, the 5 Year Plan to Protect Antibiotics must include stonger rules about how antibiotics are used in agriculture.