Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Your Food, Your Legislature: The Personal Gets Political

One of the scariest phrases I've ever heard, and one I've tried to avoid thinking about, is "antibiotic resistant bacteria." It means that a bacteria has developed a genetic mutation that makes it resistant to an antibacterial agent like antibiotics. There are now antibiotic resistant forms of Staphilococcus aureus (also known as MRSA), E. Coli, Streptococcus pneumoniae, influenza and others.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated in a report released in 2014 that "this serious threat is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country. Antibiotic resistance—when bacteria change so antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat infections—is now a major threat to public health."

Why am I bringing this up in a post about the 2015 session of the Oregon legislature?

It turns out that a dear friend of mine recently died because he contracted a drug-resistant form of E. Coli while being treated for cancer.

That's very sad, you might think, but, again, what does that have to do with the legislature?

It turns out that there's a bill in the state Senate, SB920, that seeks to limit the use of antibiotics on otherwise healthy animals by Oregon's livestock industry. If national statistics are any indication, 70 percent of "medically important" antibiotics—i.e. those that are used to treat diseases in people—are used in the livestock industry on perfectly healthy animals.

The practice of administering regular doses of antibiotics in animals' water and feed developed because it was widely believed that antibiotics promoted the growth of the animals and because most of the animals we consume for food, including chickens, pigs and cattle, are raised in confinement in crowded, unsanitary and stressful conditions.

This graphic from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) might give a better idea of how feeding antibiotics to healthy animals has brought about the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria:

According to an article in the Salem Statesman-Journal, opponents of this bill say that regulation should be left up to the federal government. Unfortunately, in addressing this issue in 2012, the Food and Drug Administration only asked the industry to voluntarily refrain from using medically important antibiotics as a growth promoter while allowing the industry complete freedom to use these same drugs to "prevent" disease. Meaning it could continue its practice of using these drugs in the same way and at the same rate as before.

How has that tactic worked? In an article in Mother Jones magazine, reporter Tom Philpott quoted FDA statistics indicating that between 2012 and 2013 the use of medically important drugs on these factory farms actually grew by 3 percent.

So if this issue concerns you as much as it does me, you need to contact your state senator immediately to voice your opinion. Here are points you can mention:
  • SB 920 requires that antibiotics used on livestock be used responsibly in order to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, allowing farmers, as well as veterinarians, to use antibiotics to treat illness and infections in sick animals. 
  • SB 920 prohibits giving farm animals low doses of antibiotics in feed and water for growth promotion and 'disease prevention' in perfectly healthy animals to mask unsanitary conditions in the facilities that animals are raised in.
  • The bill requires the largest federally regulated concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Oregon to report annually on their use of antibiotics, which is key in tracking how much antibiotics these operations are using and whether their practices are contributing to the development and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • New FDA rules and White House initiatives contain huge loopholes for factory farms to feed antibiotics to healthy animals under the guise of 'disease prevention.' SB 920 closes this loophole.
  • Antibiotic resistant bacteria can be spread to humans through handling the meat, through airborne dust from manure, and through manure from factory farms leaching into waterways.
Read the other posts in the series: Opening Salvos, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, The Fight Takes Shape and Hanging in the BalanceThanks to Friends of Family Farmers for the talking points mentioned above.

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