Keeping Our Antibiotics Working

Friday July 10, 2009

As a Microbiologist and a Member of Congress, I have been increasingly concerned with the recent rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria, or “superbugs.” Quite simply, we are losing the ability to treat human infections and diseases because we have misused one of the greatest scientific products ever created.

Last March, I introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) to address this critical problem and next week I am very excited to say that the Committee on Rules will be holding its first ever hearing on this critical topic. I encourage you to attend my hearing and let others know about the work we are doing on this issue—there are many people out there that will resist our efforts and I will need your help.

Right now there are seven classes of antibiotics certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “highly” or “critically” important in human medicine that are used as animal feed additives by many in the agriculture industry, including penicillin and tetracycline.

PAMTA will require the FDA to review the safety of using these medically significant antibiotics in animal agriculture, and phase out their use unless manufacturers can prove that there is no danger to public health from increasing bacterial resistance to these drugs.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

“70 percent of antibiotics produced in this country—nearly 13 million pounds per year—are used in animal agriculture for these nontherapeutic purposes. This amount is estimated to be more than four times the amount of drugs used to treat human illness.”

This overuse of medicine is creating “superbugs” that are now resistant to the antibiotics doctors prescribe us, and even now we’re starting to see this bacteria in our food.

PAMTA will critically shift the burden of proof to the drug manufacturers to make sure antibiotics used in farm animal production have no human health impacts. It would also drastically improve our knowledge of antibiotic use in industrial farming, equipping us to make better decisions and more effectively combat the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

I am taking action in Washington this week to raise awareness of this issue and its impact on food policy. I am sponsoring the special screening of the film Food, Inc. at the Capitol Visitor Center on Thursday night in addition to the Rules Committee hearing that I am chairing on PAMTA next Monday, July 13th.

There is little doubt that antibiotic resistant diseases are a growing public health menace, demanding a high priority response.

(Originally posted at the Huffington Post)

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