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The healthcare sector is registering strong support for bi-partisan legislation that would help end the use of important human antibiotics in the feed and water of animals that are not sick. Hundreds of individual healthcare practitioners, along with a number of hospitals and healthcare systems, have registered their support for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009 (PAMTA).
This bipartisan legislation, introduced in the House (HR 1549) and the Senate (S. 619), is intended to help curb the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, which costs society tens of billions of dollars annually. Healthcare Without Harm, a global coalition working to make healthcare safer and more sustainable, has established a petition site, www.protectantibiotics.org, to centralize healthcare support for the legislation.
"As a practicing pediatrician, I face serious antibiotic resistance problems every day in the care of my patients. It is not only a critical medical problem, but a reason that healthcare costs are rising so rapidly in this country. Antibiotics are far too important to the healthcare in this country to misuse," stated Sean Palfrey, MD, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center. "Yet, this is what we are doing by routinely feeding antibiotics to healthy animals."
An estimated 70 percent of antibiotics used annually in the U.S. are routinely given to poultry, beef cattle, and swine in their feed, not to treat diagnosed disease, but to promote faster growth and for routine disease prevention (i.e. to compensate for the heightened risk of infection when raising animals under confined, often unhygienic conditions). Many such feed antibiotics are identical or very nearly so to human medicines, including penicillins, tetracyclines, erythromycins and sulfa drugs. Because low levels of the drugs are used, bacteria evolve that have resistance to the drugs. These resistant bacteria can be transmitted to humans through farming of these animals, during food processing, and through improperly handled or undercooked meats. In some countries in the European Union where feed uses of antibiotics have been greatly curtailed, total agricultural use of antibiotics has dropped more than 50 percent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 60,000 Americans annually die from antibiotic-resistant infections. The American College of Physicians estimates that $30 billion is spent on the cumulative effects of antimicrobial resistance each year (including multiple drug regimens, extra hospital days, additional medical care and lost productivity). In 2003, the U.S. Institute of Medicine/ National Academy of Science stated that "substantial efforts must be made to decrease inappropriate overuse [of antibiotics] in animals and agriculture" and that decreasing "antimicrobial use in human medicine alone will have little effect on the current [antibiotic-resistant] situation."
“Antibiotics, a fundamental tool to protect human health, are being put at risk to allow the production of animals for food in appalling, unsanitary conditions,” stated Jamie Harvie, chair of the Healthcare Without Harm Healthy Food Work Group. “The healthcare community cannot afford to waste precious dollars desperately needed to protect public health, especially when European animal production practices demonstrate that antibiotic overuse is unnecessary.”
The petition is available on the HCWH Web site at www.protectantibiotics.org. It is open to all healthcare practitioners, and directs the user to fill out a simple form. Healthcare Without Harm then collects these electronic ‘signatures’ and presents them to Members of Congress on behalf of the signer. Hospitals and hospital systems can add their name to the growing list of hospital supporters by contacting Jamie Harvie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-525-7806.
PAMTA has been endorsed by numerous medical and public health organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.