May 25, 2019

Senators Follow up on Unanswered Antibiotic Resistance Questions

United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) sent a letter to the Interagency Task Force for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, asking again for information on how that body plans to address critical gaps in the FDA policies on overuse of antibiotics in food animals. A letter was sent in December 2014, but they have not received a formal response.

AntibioticsThe letter states, “we are extremely disappointed that we have not received a formal response form your office. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria present a major public health threat and public health experts agree that antibiotic resistance stems not only from antibiotic use in human medicine, but also from use in animals.”

The senators asked for a response within 30 days. They also want the Department of health and Human Services to appoint at least three experts who understand the line between the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture, and who do not have a conflicting business interest, to the Presidential Advisory Council on Combatting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria.

The letter states, “representatives from industrial animal producers associations and the veterinary drug industry have publicly voiced doubts about the need to reduce antibiotic use in animals and about the impact that the FDA’s policies will have on the amount of drugs used. However, public health experts agree that the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is a critical contributor to antibiotic resistance. These experts need to have a seat at the table.”

The FDA has issued a voluntary guidance plan to help “phase out” the use of medically important antibiotics in farm animal for growth promotion. But antibiotics can still be used at sub-therapeutic levels to prevent illness. And the guidance documents do not have the force of law behind them; they are only suggestions to industry.

Antibiotic resistance is increasing for some pathogens. Every year, about 440,000 Americans develop antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections from food. Almost 10% of all Salmonella bacteria are resistant to multiple antibiotics. And other bacteria, such as Campylobacter, are strongly resistant to one drug.

The current Salmonella outbreak in Washington state, which has sickened at least 134 people, is caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria. Pork produced by Kapowsin Meats is the “likely source” of this outbreak. In that outbreak, 100% of the outbreak strain is resistant to ampicillin, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, and tetracycline.

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