January 23, 2008

Our Food Fueled Growth of Super Bacteria

January 23, 2008

San Francisco Chronicle

Lena Brook, SF Bay PSR program associate and Coordinator of the California Food Work Group, published a letter in today’s Chronicle in response to a January 20th article: “Bacteria Race Ahead of Drugs” about the increased resistance of common pathogenic bacteria to antibiotics.

She takes issue with the author’s emphasis on physician over-prescription, and under-emphasis of the profligate use of antibiotics in the industrial production of livestock.

The overuse of human antibiotics is an important issue, to be sure, but it pales in comparison to the magnitude and irresponsibility of their use in livestock operations. Fully 70% of antibiotics used in this country are given to healthy animals, and to simply impugn the medical community when raising the issue of antibiotic resistance distracts from the substance of the problem and squanders an opportunity to raise awareness in an under-informed public. Please see Ms. Brook’s letter below:

Editor – Regarding “The battle with super bacteria” (Jan. 20): The image of one physician chastising hundreds of others regarding the rampant misuse of antibiotics in medical practice certainly gave me pause. There is no better indicator of the magnitude of public health threat we face with the escalating rates of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in our hospitals and communities.

However, doctors alone cannot bear the blame for excessive overuse. Roughly 70 percent of all antibiotics produced in the United States are used in agriculture, with the vast majority given to healthy animals to promote growth and to compensate for the crowded, unsanitary conditions typical of industrial feedlots and poultry farms. Even more alarming is the fact that half of the antibiotics given to animals this way are medically important to humans.

When our agricultural industry abuses antibiotics to make pigs, chickens and cattle grow faster, it is directly contributing to the creation of the super bacteria described in Sabin Russell’s articles.

In light of substantial recent evidence implicating overuse of drugs with resistant-bacteria, this would be an excellent opportunity for the health care community to voice their concerns to meat and poultry producers as well as to shift their purchasing practices toward sustainably produced chicken, pigs, and beef. And for the agricultural community to listen.

LENA BROOK

Physicians For Social Responsibility

Berkeley