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March 9, 2011 

Slaughter Bill Would Protect Public from Dangerous Antibiotics Overuse in Livestock Production

WASHINGTON (March 9, 2011) – Legislation reintroduced today by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) would help protect Americans from widespread antibiotic overuse in food animal production, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. UCS estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics used in the United States are devoted to the non-therapeutic treatment of cattle, swine and poultry, endangering human health by contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections.

“Representative Slaughter’s legislation is critical to maintaining antibiotics’ effectiveness,” said Margaret Mellon, director of the UCS Food and Environment Program. “The bill would establish critical safeguards to prevent the indiscriminant use of antibiotics by the livestock industry, which is contributing to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and infections.”

The main culprits are confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) operators that routinely add human antibiotics to livestock feed for non-therapeutic purposes, such as accelerating growth and preventing diseases that are common in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.

“U.S. livestock producers are overusing and misusing antibiotics to reduce the cost of beef, chicken and pork,” said Mellon. “This penny-pinching practice is undermining the effectiveness of these ‘miracle’ drugs and poses dire risks to human health.”

Rep. Slaughter’s bill, the “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act” (PAMTA), would preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat human disease by requiring the Food and Drug Administration to revoke approval of antibiotics for non-therapeutic purposes unless the agency determines that the drugs do not produce unsafe levels of antibiotic resistance. The bill would allow farmers to continue to treat sick animals with antibiotics.

Millions of Americans rely on familiar antibiotics, such as penicillin and tetracycline, to fight dangerous infections. The overuse of these antibiotics on the farm has transformed treatable human infections into deadly antibiotic-resistant illnesses that can result in long hospital stays, costly medical bills, and, in the worst-case scenario, death. In 2009, the Cook County Hospital in Illinois and the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics estimated that the total health care cost of antibiotic-resistant infections in the United States is $16 billion to $26 billion annually.

“Congress, the FDA and the Obama administration should support Louise Slaughter’s bill to maintain antibiotics’ effectiveness in treating bacterial illnesses,” said Mellon. “It’s time we put public health ahead of industry profits.”

 

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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