Proponents of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act once again have trotted out their favorite piece of legislation in hopes that this time Congress might swallow their story. It has failed in the past, but why not try it again?
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) recently re-introduced the PAMTA legislation in Congress hoping it would succeed this time around.
Antibiotic resistance is a serious problem that can be fatal to humans in worst-case scenarios. But over-simplifying the issue and misrepresenting the facts further increases the risk to the public. Taking on the issue will require complex solutions, including the common problem of over-prescribing antibiotics in human medicine. Not to mention the problem of patient compliance in completing their full antibiotic regimen.
But Slaughter and others behind PAMTA seem to think that antibiotic resistance in humans will be a thing of the past if major restrictions are placed on antibiotic use in food-animal production. Slaughter contends that antibiotic use in animal agriculture is the primary driver behind the antibiotic resistance phenomenon. Her argument hides the full story and falls short in several ways.
According to a report by the American Academy of Microbiology, the causes of antibiotic resistance are varied and complex.
AAM indicates that even appropriate use of antibiotics can contribute to the spread of resistance, underscoring the complexity of its causes and the error in focusing on any one area.
“There are no scapegoats,” according to the report, “Ultimately, resistance development is founded in the inevitability of microbial evolution.” It also states that antibiotic resistance is essentially uncontrollable.
Slaughter and other PAMTA backers repeatedly neglect to inform us that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves all antibiotics used in animals. The process is very demanding and often takes years for sponsoring organizations to complete exhaustive scientific studies that FDA requires to prove safety for animals as well as humans. They also always forget to explain that every antibiotic used in animals has stringent withdrawal periods prior to slaughter of food animals in order to further guarantee that antibiotic residues are not present in meat and poultry consumed by humans.
Slaughter also repeatedly ignores the exhaustive testing for antibiotic residues that the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service conducts.
The PAMTA contingent ignores the Ohio State University study that found pigs raised without antibiotics had higher rates of three foodborne pathogens than those from farms using antibiotics responsibly. They cannot understand that by holding down the level of subclinical disease with antibiotics there is less potential to cause food poisoning in consumers. Instead, they prefer to portray farmers who produce our food as tycoons dosing animals liberally with antibiotics.
The PAMTA proponents would better serve the public by leaving antibiotic use in food animals to the real experts who do not misrepresent the facts. The topic is best handled by FDA, FSIS, food-animal veterinarians and the farmers themselves who have a consistent track record of providing the safest food supply in the world. Politicians are not required.
According to the AAM report, “The important messages about antibiotic resistance are not getting across from scientists and infectious diseases specialists to prescribers, stakeholders, including the public, healthcare providers and public officials.”
Slaughter and others it seems, are doing their best to keep the real story from the public.