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March 17, 2009 

New Bill Would Reduce Misuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals, Science Group Says

Legislation Would Protect Critical Antibiotics for Human and Animal Medicine

WASHINGTON (March 17, 2009) — Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation today that would curtail the overuse of antibiotics in food animal production and help protect the efficacy of the small number of existing, lifesaving antibiotics. More than 350 groups have endorsed the legislation, including the American Medical Association.

"More and more Americans know someone or have personally dealt with a 'superbug' that has put them in the hospital and required extensive rounds of high-powered medicine to fight it off," said Margaret Mellon, a molecular biologist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). "This bill will help prevent the emergence of such superbugs by reducing the antibiotics used in animal agriculture."

When continually exposed to antibiotics, bacteria develop resistance to the drugs. Adding antibiotics to animal feed in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) turn these massive, overcrowded facilities into prime breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can move to humans through food, air and water. Then when people get sick from these resistant bacteria, antibiotics are less effective.

"What passes for standard antibiotic use in this country makes no sense," said Mellon, co-author of a report that found animal agriculture accounts for an estimated 70 percent of all antibiotic use in the United States. "Animal producers cannot continue to feed their hogs and chickens the very same penicillin and tetracycline that doctors prescribe for their patients. Using antibiotics as a crutch for crowded, unsanitary conditions at CAFOs ultimately puts human lives at risk."

"Our food system is broken," said Mellon. "Congress needs to work with President Obama to fix it."

[Two recent columns by New York Times' Nicholas Kristof address this issue. Click here for Kristof's March 15 column, "Pathogens in Our Pork," and here for his March 12 column, "Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health."]

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The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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