Superbugs

See if this sounds like a good idea to you: Mix human antibiotics into the feed of animals at levels that are too low to knock out all disease causing bacteria in an attempt to quell safety concerns about the unsanitary conditions at mega-farms. Not particularly brilliant, right?

Now, see if this makes sense: Study this practice at mega-farms, conclude in 1977 that continued use of this practice could promote “superbugs,” resistant strains of bacteria that pose risks to human health, then ignore your own findings and conclusions for the next 34 years. Sound crazy? Well, it is. And yet, this is exactly what has been happening, or perhaps I should say what has not been happening, right here in the good old U S of A.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has known for three decades that feeding low levels of certain antibiotics to healthy animals poses a threat to human health.

How much of a threat are we talking about here? Well, do you consider AIDS a threat? Then, consider this: In 2007, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported on 2005 data on MRSA, a drug-resistant aggressive variant of staph bacteria that killed more people in the U.S. than AIDS.

In May’s Wired magazine online, Maryn McKenna reported that the FDA official who had led the push to issue language regarding more judicious use of antibiotics, a document without teeth that nevertheless drew much industry criticism, resigned from the FDA.

Last Friday, a technical document summarizing scientific findings on antibiotic use and the proliferation of resistant bacteria such as MRSA, suddenly disappeared off the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website, reports Mother Jones.

Suspicious, no? The bottom line is the government shouldn’t be bowing to the industry when we are talking about superbugs or anything with the potential to affect the health of the American populous it is charged with protecting. You see, regulation isn’t a bad word … it’s a word to describe what our government is supposed to do, which is step in and protect us from harms that profit-driven corporations may unleash on people in their maniac drive for more money.

And yet, in the case of the FDA and the rampant use of antibiotics for livestock, the government hasn’t been protecting us. It has been stalling. This why in Public Citizen joined the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and sued the FDA in May, saying the FDA has failed to meet its legal responsibility to address the mounting health threat posed by low-dose antibiotic farm practices.

We will continue to push for accountability, as we do with all government and corporate actions that stand to impact the public.