On Safeguarding Antibiotics: An Unpublished Letter to the Editor

Last week, The New York Times published an article about the increasingly common occurrence of deadly antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in hospitals. Really scary stuff. Even scarier though, is that while serious efforts are being made to address the threat of antibiotic resistance in hospital settings, virtually nothing has been done to curb the reckless nontherapeutic use of antibiotics by industrial livestock producers in the US.

After reading the Times article, I wrote a letter to the editor in which I expressed this concern. Apparently it wasn’t deemed fit to print. But we believe that the antibiotics issue is incredibly important – and given the fact that just yesterday, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (once again) introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), a piece of legislation designed to prevent the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture, it certainly warrants public attention. So here’s an Ecocentric exclusive: my unpublished letter to the Times.

Re: "Deadly Bacteria That Resist Strongest Drugs Are Spreading" (Health, March 5):

The dramatic increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections is among the more alarming contemporary public health crises. But the risk is not borne exclusively by hospital patients; antibiotic resistance threatens everyone – and effective mitigation strategies must extend beyond hospital walls.

While this article describes methods of reducing AR bacterial infections in clinical settings, (e.g., "doctors should prescribe antibiotics only when they are truly needed"), it fails to articulate a crucial policy response: curbing the rampant overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Industrial livestock producers, who use roughly 80 percent of all antimicrobials sold in the US, administer the drugs not when "truly needed," but on a regular basis to speed animal growth and prevent disease. This promotes the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, needlessly jeopardizing public health.

If we’re serious about addressing antibiotic resistance, we should begin by ending this irresponsible practice.

Chris Hunt
Senior Policy Advisor
GRACE Communications Foundation