I would like to respond to the January 7, 2010 letter titled, “No link between antibiotics used in livestock production, resistance in people.”
First and foremost, I would like to clear up a common misconception about my bill, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. The author states that “87 percent of animal antibiotics are used therapeutically to keep animals healthy by treating, preventing, and controlling disease.” But by definition, administering antibiotics to prevent disease in an animal that is not sick is not a therapeutic use of an antibiotic.
My bill will not ban the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals. It only prohibits the nontherapeutic use in livestock production of seven classes of antibiotics certified by the Food and Drug Administration as “highly” or “critically” important in human medicine.
Denmark, for example, has already banned the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock production, and in September of 2009, experts at the Danish Technical Institute wrote a letter to the speaker and me, detailing the positive results of the implementation of the policy. Findings include a significant reduction in antibiotics resistance among animal pathogens and a decrease in broiler (chicken) mortality after the ban of nontherapeutic antibiotic use was implemented. You can read a copy of the letter here.
Additionally, there is a solid link between the use of antibiotics in livestock production and the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
On July 13, 2009, I held a hearing on PAMTA, and Margaret Mellon, the director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated, “The list of antibiotic resistant pathogens originating in animals is long."
As an example, in 2008, scientists were able to link livestock to a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
Opponents of my bill have falsely argued that we can address the issue of antibiotic resistance if we decrease the overuse of antibiotics in humans, but a recent National Academy of Sciences report states that “a decrease in antimicrobial use in human medicine alone will have little effect on the current situation. Substantial efforts must be made to decrease inappropriate overuse in animals and agriculture as well.”
I would also like to point out that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production is not just a public health issue — it is a trade issue. Growing concerns about antimicrobial resistance have caused some U.S. trading partners and competitors, including the European Union, New Zealand and South Korea, to implement restrictions and prohibitions on the use of certain antibiotics for subtherapeutic or nontherapeutic purposes in animal production. Under World Trade Organization rules, trading partners who implement this ban will have the right to refuse imports that do not meet this standard.
Just last week, Russia announced it was going to widen its ban on United States pork imports, due in part to a dispute over standards for antibiotic residue.
Opponents of this legislation often cite increased costs to farmers if a ban on the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics is implemented. Although a recent report from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service supports the idea that a reduction in antibiotic use could be achieved without major costs to producers, I would ask those farmers: Have they considered the cost to American agriculture if countries continue to decide that the risk of antibiotics in livestock production is too high to import meat from the United States?
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) is the chairwoman of the House Committee on Rules.