City Council sent a message to Congress Sept. 17 when it passed a resolution calling for a nationwide ban on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock production.
The widespread use of antibiotics on factory farm animals is linked to more antibiotic resistant infections in humans, according to Food & Water Watch, a consumer’s rights group.
The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act and the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act would not prevent farmers from giving antibiotics to animals that are sick, says Allison Auciello, an organizer for Food & Water Watch.
“We don’t want to stop that from happening,” Auciello says. “It would just ban that non-theraputic, low-level dose they’re being fed in their food everyday that gives rise to those superbugs, the anti-biotic resistant bacteria.”
Rather than being used to treat sick animals, antibiotics are routinely used on factory farms to promote faster growth and prevent infections in crowded, unsanitary living conditions.
A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 2 million Americans suffer from antibiotic resistant infections each year and at least 23,000 people die from them. Approximately 22 percent of those infections are foodborne.
“We’re entering an age in which these life-saving medicines are no longer working to treat infections in humans,” Auciello says.
A 2009 study by Cook County Hospital in Chicago showed that antibiotic infections cost the U.S. health care system more than $20 billion each year.
“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria remains a growing public health crises,” says Councilman Chris Seelbach, who sponsored the City Council resolution. “We know the causes, and now is the time for Congress to implement a solution.”
Critics of the federal legislation, including pharmaceutical companies and trade organizations, maintain that antibiotics are still useful for keeping livestock healthy and that there is little to no evidence that curtailing antibiotic use in feed would improve human health.
The FDA first tried to rein in the use of drugs in animal feed in the 1970s after a groundbreaking study by microbiologist Stuart Levy revealed that potentially lethal bacteria, E. Coli, were developing resistance to the antibiotics and then jumping from poultry to people. But the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries fought it, viewing antibiotic use as a way to produce meat more quickly and cheaply. Today, Ohio’s food and agriculture industry is valued at $105 billion, according to a report by the state’s Department of Agriculture.
To date, 26 cities have passed the resolution to curtail the use of antibiotics in livestock, including Cleveland, Chicago, Seattle, and Pittsburgh.
“We’re calling on Congress to do the right thing, quit stalling and take action to bring our regulations into line with mainstream scientific opinion,” Seelbach says.
All council members voted for the resolution except Amy Murray, who abstained.