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Kirstie Pecci,
MASSPIRG

Stop the Superbugs:

MASSPIRG Calls for End to Antibiotic Abuse on Factory Farms
For Immediate Release

Boston, MA – MASSPIRG along with a coalition of local medical professionals called upon the Obama Administration today to immediately restrict the use of antibiotics on factory farms when animals are not sick. MASSPIRG, a statewide consumer advocacy group, is part of a nationwide coalition that includes over 1,000 Massachusetts medical professionals working to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics due to the overuse and misuse by factory farms.

“The medicine chest may be empty soon. We need to end the abuse of antibiotics on factory farms right now to preserve their ability to treat infections,” urged Amirah Mitchell, a campaign associate with MASSPIRG.

 Antibiotics, a pillar of modern medicine are losing their effectiveness due to the emergence of ‘superbugs,’ bacteria that are resistant to one or more classes of drugs.  A phenomenon fueled by untargeted and widespread use, experts point to the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms as a major contributor to the problem. 

More than 70 percent of antibiotics used in human medicine are sold for use in food animals, typically to increase the speed at which animals gain weight or to prevent disease caused by unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. This use fuels the creation of resistant bacteria that can spread from farms via food, animal to human contact, and animal waste that enters the environment.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took a small first step towards addressing the problem  by issuing guidelines for antibiotics use on farms. Unfortunately, the guidelines were voluntary and narrow in scope, and are unlikely to lead to significant reductions in antibiotic misuse on farms. 

A growing body of experts in the United States and across the globe is calling for stronger action.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently estimated that drug-resistant bacterial infections make 2 million people sick in the United States each year and cause 23,000 deaths.  A recent World Health Organization report on the issue estimated resistant infections result in eight million additional days in hospitals, which costs between $21 and $34 billion each year in the United States alone.

The event coincided with the release of MASSPIRG Education Fund’s  new report: Ending the Abuse of Antibiotics in Livestock Production: The Case for Reform.

“The science is overwhelming that antibiotics shouldn’t be misused on animals that aren’t sick. The Obama administration needs to stop this practice cold turkey,” stated Jessica Nahigian, End the Abuse of Antibiotics Campaign Coordinator for MASSPIRG.

Victims at especially high risk include patients receiving cancer chemotherapy, complex surgeries, dialysis, and organ and bone marrow transplants. These patients are much more susceptible to bacterial infection, and treatment relies often on effective antibiotics to ensure recovery. A drug-resistant infection could mean more stress, illness, cost and or even death in these cases.

Antibiotic resistant diseases are also becoming more and more common among the general populace. For Jessica Nahigian, this problem was personal.

“Two years ago, in my early twenties, I was rushed to the hospital because I had unknowingly been exposed to and infected by an antibiotic resistant disease. The disease ran rampant after it survived the antibiotics I took for a routine dental surgery. I was shocked. One day I was enjoying Fourth of July fireworks, and the next I was hooked up to multiple monitors in the ICU, regretting that I might not have a chance to say goodbye to everyone I loved. Thankfully I am still here, but it was extremely close.”

Nahigian and her doctors were disturbed that someone so young was so ill with an infection that should have been easily treated with antibiotics.  

“We need the Obama administration to stop the misuse of antibiotics on animals that aren’t sick, or stories like this will become the norm,” concluded Nahigian.

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MASSPIRG is a statewide consumer group that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. 

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