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New Law Introduced to Safeguard Use of Antibiotics in Agriculture

28 June 2013

US - Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) has introduced legislation to combat antibiotic resistant superbugs that develop when antibiotics are misused in animal agriculture.

The Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act of 2013 directs the Food and Drug Administration to prohibit the use of human antibiotics in the feed and water of healthy farm animals if they jeopardize human health.

The bill requires drug companies and agriculture producers to demonstrate that antibiotics are used to treat clinically diagnosable diseases - not just to fatten livestock. The over-use of these antibiotics contributes to the development of so-called ’superbugs,’ or infections that cannot be treated with existing medicines.

“Antibiotics are the closest thing to a ‘silver bullet’ in human medicine given their ability to wipe out a wide variety of bacterial infections, but we are in danger of losing this weapon in the fight against infectious diseases,” said Senator Feinstein. “When antibiotics are fed in low doses to animals, only the strongest, most resistant bacteria are left behind to reproduce. By the time these resistant pathogens make their way from the animals into our communities, the infections can be costly to treat or untreatable all together.”

A recent study published in the medical journal, Clinical Infectious Diseases, found that nearly 50 per cent of grocery store meat was contaminated with antibiotic resistant pathogens, according to the Senator. Approximately 25 per cent of this meat was contaminated with pathogens that were resistant to three or more type of antibiotics.

“The irresponsible use of antibiotics is dangerous, and tens of thousands of people in the US die each year from antibiotic resistant infections,” Senator Feinstein added. “We must preserve the efficacy of these life-saving drugs by carefully restricting their overuse in our agriculture products.”

The Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act of 2013:

  • directs the Food and Drug Administration to prohibit the use of antibiotics in ways that accelerate antibiotic resistance
  • requires drug companies and producers to demonstrate they are using antibiotics to treat clinically diagnosable diseases—not just to fatten their livestock
  • applies restrictions to only the limited number of antibiotics that are critical to human health. Any drug not used in human medicine is left untouched by this legislation, and
  • preserves the ability of farmers to use all available antibiotics to treat sick animals. If a veterinarian identifies a sick animal, or a herd of animals that are likely to become sick, there are no restrictions on what drugs can be used.

More than 375 public, consumer and environmental health groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America, support the legislation.

Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Barbara Boxer (D-California) are co-sponsors of the legislation.

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