[Pharmwaste] Just Say No to Antibacterial Burgers

DeBiasi,Deborah Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov
Wed Sep 16 09:22:42 EDT 2009


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/15/AR200909
1500736.html

Just Say No to Antibacterial Burgers

By Ezra Klein

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 

When I was a kid, my mother was a bit obsessive about making sure I
finished my antibiotics. Even if I was feeling better. That didn't make
a lot of sense to me. You take medicine until you're not sick anymore.
But when I got a bit older, she explained: If you don't kill off the
bacteria, you could be left with only the strongest bits, which then
multiply and mount a counterattack. That made sense. I'd watched enough
slasher flicks to know that you don't turn your back just because the
killer is down. You make sure he's dead. 

But leaving a capsule of Zithromax behind, it seems, was the least of my
problems. This column is based on a single and quite extraordinary
statistic: Food animal production accounts for 70 percent -- 70 percent!
-- of the antibiotics used in the United States. That doesn't even
include the antibiotics used for animals that actually get sick. That
figure is for "non-therapeutic use" such as growth promotion and disease
prevention.
 
The heavy reliance on routine antibiotic use is a byproduct of the way
we raise animals for food: packed into dim and dirty enclosures where
they live amid their own filth, eat food that they haven't evolved to
digest, and are pretty much stacked atop one another. Most human beings
I know can hardly spend three hours on a plane without contracting a
case of the sniffles. 

When you give antibiotics to animals meant to become food, however,
you're ensuring that antibiotics end up in the food in low but constant
doses. That means bacteria are getting more accustomed to the
antibiotics. There's good reason to think that this background exposure
to antibiotics is contributing to the startling rise in
antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Everything from staph to strep to
salmonella is exhibiting uncommon resilience in the face of our latest
drugs. A 2003 World Health Organization study
(http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/micro/en/exec_sum.pdf) put
it pretty starkly: "There is clear evidence of the human health
consequences [from agricultural use of antibiotics, including]
infections that would not have otherwise occurred, increased frequency
of treatment failures (in some cases death) and increased severity of
infections." Even stronger was the title of a 2001 New England Journal
of Medicine editorial: "Antimicrobial Use in Animal Feed -- Time to
Stop." 

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) is a former microbiologist who has a
master's degree in public health. She also happens to chair the powerful
House Committee on Rules. "This is terribly important," she says. "If
people don't believe in evolution, they should look at staphylococcus.
Your body used to be able to take care of it. But now it can kill you.
It's evolved." Her answer is H.R. 1549
(http://www.rules.house.gov/bills_details.aspx?NewsID=4354): the
Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009. The
legislation's approach is very simple, Slaughter says: "The bill
preserves the seven most effective classes of antibiotics for human use
only. They can be used to treat sick animals, but they can't be used to
simply raise animals."
 
The industry's objection to this is that it will make meat -- delicious,
delicious meat -- unaffordable for the average consumer. When I pose
this to Slaughter, she laughs mirthlessly. "That really is a strange
defense," she says. "We keep animals in such deplorable conditions that
they'll become sick as a dog if we don't dose them?" 

There's also the argument that the pennies we're saving on each burger
are being spent in our hospitals. A 2005 study out of Tufts University
estimated that antibiotic-resistant infections add $50 billion to the
annual cost of American health care. On the other side of the coin, a
National Academy of Sciences study found that eliminating
non-therapeutic antibiotics from animals would cost only about $5 to $10
per person per year. I'd pay that for a lower risk of
super-staphylococcus.

There's also a trade angle to the issue: In 1986, Sweden banned the use
of non-therapeutic antibiotics in their meat. In 1998, Denmark, the
largest swine-producing nation in Europe, did the same. In 2006, the
whole European Union outlawed growth-promoting antibiotics in its meat,
and it's likely that other countries will follow suit. That could begin
shutting down foreign markets for our livestock exports, or at least
embroil us in nasty trade wars. And for what? A practice that's making
us sicker, that obscures the horrible way we raise our animals and that
even my mother would have warned against 20 years ago? 


Ezra Klein can be reached at kleine at washpost.com or through his blog at
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ezraklein.




Deborah L. DeBiasi 
Email:   Deborah.DeBiasi at deq.virginia.gov (NEW!)
WEB site address:  www.deq.virginia.gov 
Virginia Department of Environmental Quality 
Office of Water Permit Programs 
Industrial Pretreatment/Toxics Management Program 
PPCPs, EDCs, and Microconstituents 
Mail:          P.O. Box 1105, Richmond, VA  23218 (NEW!) 
Location:  629 E. Main Street, Richmond, VA  23219 
PH:         804-698-4028 
FAX:      804-698-4032 




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