In an attempt to save modern-day medicine, a microbiologist who serves in Congress is reintroducing an updated version of her Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).
The legislation is a mouthful, but in essence it aims to curb the use of antibiotics in factory farm settings because the unnecessary overuse is breeding hard-to-kill supergerms, rendering many of our most important antibiotics useless for human ailments. It would end farmers' practice of giving antibiotics to animals that aren't sick.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) is once again asking Congress to pass the legislation, which has not caught on in previous sessions. Congress may have been able to ignore the problem in the past, but medical organizations around the world have created mounting pressure that legislators address the issue. The World Health Organization recently said resistance to antibiotics might be the end of modern medicine; people could die after routine operations or when a simple scrape on the knee becomes infected.
In fact, we're already seeing all sorts of antibiotic-resistant infections claim lives and strain the healthcare system. The most common, MRSA, alone kills about 18,000 people a year in the United States—that's more than AIDS. Gonorrhea is also on the verge of being untreatable, and many common antibiotics no longer cure urinary tract infections.
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Why is this happening? The practice of doctors prescribing antibiotics when they're not really needed is one culprit, but modern American farming practices are another. These antibiotics that people rely on are being used in staggering numbers in nonorganic farming operations. An astonishing 80 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. go to farm animals—usually to ones that don't need them. A recent Food and Drug Administration report found about 30 tons of antibiotics are fed to farm animals each year. The animals aren't necessarily sick, but are fed a steady dose of low-dose antibiotics to prevent infection from the filthy, overcrowded conditions in which they're raised for slaughter. Antibiotics are even used to speed the growth of the animals, which helps factory farmers save money because they can send them off to the slaughterhouse sooner.
The perils of overusing antibiotics in farm settings don't stay on the farm. In fact, dangerous antibiotic-resistant germs are routinely detected on supermarket meat.
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dubs antibiotic resistance one of its top concerns, and organizations like the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Infectious Diseases Society of American, and Natural Resources Defense Council, among hundreds of other public health groups, support PAMTA.
You can do your part to curb the problem by personally contacting your federal elected officials and asking them to support PAMTA. At home, source meat, dairy, and eggs from animals that aren't given long-term, low-dose antibiotics—these include certified-organic, Animal Welfare Approved, and Certified Humane foods.