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February 10, 2010 

Katie Couric Investigates Ag's Role in Antibiotic Resistance

Federal Legislation Would Ensure Antibiotics Continue to Work for People

An investigative story by Katie Couric on CBS "Evening News" recently shined a light the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in medicine, a critical public health issue that is unknown to most Americans. As the CBS news segment pointed out, which took Katie Couric to Arkansas and Iowa, the overuse of antibiotics in livestock and poultry feed and water in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) contributes significantly to antibiotic resistance. Producers routinely feed antibiotics to pigs, cattle and chickens that are not sick, a practice that leads to the development of bacteria that are immune to antibiotics and undermines the effectiveness of these drugs in treating human diseases. According to UCS, the problem is dangerous and unnecessary: modern agricultural systems can forgo nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics and still provide meat for U.S. consumers without sacrificing human or animal health.

A bill now gaining momentum in Congress would curtail the overuse of antibiotics in food animal production, protect animal health, and ensure the effectiveness of a small number of lifesaving antibiotics. To date, 120 members of Congress have endorsed the bill, "The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA)." Nearly 300 stakeholder groups. including the American Medical Association, also support PAMTA. Now is a good time to educate your readers on this topic and encourage your congressional lawmakers to support the bill.

UCS estimates that livestock and poultry production accounts for about 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States each year. CAFOs routinely feed such important human drugs as penicillin and tetracycline to pigs, cattle and chickens to promote growth and prevent diseases caused by overcrowded, stressful living conditions.

When bacteria are routinely exposed to antibiotics, they develop resistance to them and become "superbugs" that can move from animals to humans through food, air and water. Treating a patient infected by a superbug with an ineffective drug can lead to a more serious illness, and if none of the available antibiotics work, resistance becomes a matter of life and death.

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. According to UCS, the bill in Congress would help prevent the emergence of such superbugs by reducing antibiotic use in animal agriculture.



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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