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NEWARK- NJPIRG gathered outside St. Michaels’s Medical Center in Newark Thursday to call on the Obama Administration to immediately restrict the use of antibiotics on factory farms when animals are not sick. NJPIRG Law & Policy Center released a new report: Ending the Abuse of Antibiotics in Livestock Production: The Case for Reform.
“The medicine chest may be empty soon. We need to end the abuse of antibiotics on factory farms right now to preserve antibiotics and continue to effectively treat infections,” urged Hannah Farrell, NJPIRG Campaign Coordinator.
Antibiotics, a pillar of modern medicine are losing their effectiveness due to the emergence of ‘superbugs,’ bacteria that are resistant to one or more classes of drugs. A phenomenon fueled by untargeted and widespread use, experts point to the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms as a major contributor to the problem.
More than 70 percent of antibiotics in classes used in human medicine are sold for use in food animals, typically to increase the speed at which animals gain weight or to prevent disease caused by unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. This use fuels the creation of resistant bacteria that can spread off farms via food, animal to human contact, and animal waste that enters the environment.
“Antibiotics helped transform modern medicine by securing the health of patients undergoing routine surgery or those requiring more advanced procedures such as transplantation.” said David Perlin, Phd., Director of the Public Health Research Institute at the New Jersey Medical School-Rutgers. “Antibiotic resistance thwarts this progress by limiting treatment options and, in some cases, it has the potential to return us to a pre-antibiotic era where deaths dues to infections were the norm and not the exception."
Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a small first step, by issuing guidelines for antibiotics use on farms. Unfortunately, the guidelines were voluntary and narrow in scope, and are unlikely to lead to significant reductions in antibiotic misuse on farms.
A growing body of experts in the United States and across the globe is calling for stronger action. The U.S. Centers for Disease control recently estimated that drug-resistant bacterial infections make 2 million people sick in the United States each year and cause 23,000 deaths. A recent World Health Organization report on the issue estimated resistant infections result in eight million additional days in hospitals, which costs between $21 and $34 billion each year in the United States alone.
“The science is overwhelming that antibiotics shouldn’t be misused on animals that aren’t sick. The Obama administration needs to stop this practice cold turkey,” stated Farrell.
Victims at especially high risk include patients receiving cancer chemotherapy, complex surgeries, dialysis, and organ and bone marrow transplants. These patients are much more susceptible to bacterial infection, and treatment relies often on effective antibiotics to ensure recovery. A drug-resistant infection could mean more stress, illness, cost and sometimes death in these cases.
“I had an antibiotic-resistant infection that required me to have additional treatment that otherwise would not have been necessary,” said Willie Guerrero, a Bayonne resident and Rutgers student. “It was very invasive but thankfully I was able to be treated. Not everyone has that option, so we need to keep antibiotics working, and we need the Obama administration to stop the misuse of antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick.”
"Antibiotics are a staple of contemporary life,” said Perlin. “They overcome and prevent infections that once regularly imperiled the lives of healthy individuals and those with compromised immunity.”
This summer NJPIRG staff have educated over 35,000 New Jersey residents about the overuse of antibiotics and have built a coalition of over 650 health professionals. They are part of a nationwide coalition of more than 2,000 medical professionals working against the declining effectiveness of antibiotics due to overuse and misuse.
NJPIRG Law & Policy Center works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation. www.njpirgcenter.org.
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