Bill Reintroduced to Limit Overuse of Antibiotics in Agriculture

This week Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) reintroduced the Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act. This measure would act to strengthen recent FDA guidelines discouraging the use of antibiotics in order to promote weight gain in food animals. If passed, this bill would require the FDA to rescind approval of medically-important antibiotics for use in animals unless the manufacturer can show that there is no danger to human health. This bill would also require more veterinary oversight of antibiotic use.

Antibiotics are one of the most important medical advances in history, but antibiotic resistant bacteria are developing with alarming frequency. Antibiotics are widely used for non-medical reasons in agriculture and are over-prescribed in the clinic.  The combination of improper and overuse of antibiotics coupled with a drop in the number of new antibiotics developed each year is leading to worrisome increases in the prevalence of antibiotic resistant infections around the world. In India last year, over 58,000 infants died after contracting antibiotic resistant infections while in the US over 2 million people were infected by antibiotic resistant bacteria and ~23,000 died.

It is unclear how much this new bill will help to decrease the improper use of antibiotics, but any step taken to limit antibiotic use is at least a step in the right direction. You can support this bill by contacting your legislators and asking them to support the Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act.

Potentially a more effective way to limit the use of antibiotics in agriculture is to put pressure on major food producers and vote with your dollars. Many supermarkets carry meat from animals raised without antibiotics, although you will usually pay extra so this is not a practical option for everyone. The good news is that some companies are responding to public pressure about antibiotic use.  McDonald’s announced this week that it will stop buying chickens raised using antibiotics, saying that it was “listening to our customers”. Due to the huge purchasing power that McDonald’s has, this is likely to have a big impact on the use of antibiotics in chickens. If more large corporations do the same, antibiotic use in agriculture could be severely curtailed.

Resources About Antibiotic Resistance

“Imagining the Post-Antibiotic Future” by Maryn McKenna in

“Resistance” documentary by Michael Graziano (reviewed in Nature News here)

“Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria” PBS Frontline